We won’t stop demanding justice for Tony

March 15, 2016

Brad LeBaron reports from Madison on protests to remember a police murder victim.

ONE YEAR ago this month, Tony Robinson, an unarmed 19-year-old Black man, was shot seven times and killed by officer Matt Kenny in Madison, Wisconsin.

During the first weekend of March, Robinson's family and anti-racist organizations in the city remembered this victim of the cops--as well as the Madison Police Department's (MPD) failure to indict Kenny--with a weekend of demonstrations, culminating in a march and candlelight vigil on March 6.

More than 100 people gathered in solidarity at the University of Wisconsin (UW) Campus Mall on Friday, March 4. The demonstrators included members of the Young, Gifted and Black (YGB) coalition, All Minds Matter, the Black Liberation coalition and the International Socialist Organization (ISO), as well as the Robinson family and other members of the Madison community.

The demonstration began with speeches about police brutality, community control of the police, the prison-industrial complex and the wider struggle for liberation. Afterward came a march, which included stops at busy intersections for moments of silence for Tony Robinson.

Madison protesters march one year after the police murder of Tony Robinson
Madison protesters march one year after the police murder of Tony Robinson (Joe Brusky)

Sunday's gathering of about 200 people was a more somber remembrance organized by close friends and family. The protesters marched down Williamson Street, where the tragedy took place, to East Washington Avenue, before circling back to the starting point of the demonstration for a candlelight vigil.

Last year, on March 6, Madison erupted in days of protest after Robinson was killed when Kenny pursued him into his friend's apartment and shot him in the stairwell. Thousands of people took to the streets for a series of marches, and opponents of police violence took over the state Capitol building. There was another round of angry demonstrations, including school walkouts organized by high school students, when the district attorney announced that Kenny would not be charged.

Though the protests began within hours of the shooting, these were not purely spontaneous expressions of anger. The ongoing efforts of activist groups set the stage for the quick and organized response, with hundreds of people mobilized in solidarity to the site where Robinson was shot by that night.

THE MURDER of Robinson was another stage in the development of the Black Lives Matter struggle that kicked into high gear after the killing of Mike Brown on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, half a year earlier. Public consciousness of systematic racism has been growing since then, and the efforts of people outraged by the epidemic police murder--both people new to activism and movement veterans--has continued as well.

The impact has been significant. According to an opinion poll last year by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, 53 percent of whites believe that more must be done to eliminate racism--that number was up from 39 percent the year before.

The effects of systematic racism are all too apparent in Wisconsin. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee were shocked to find in a study on the state's incarceration rates that Wisconsin had double the national rate of incarceration for Black men, at 13 percent.

The most staggering example of racial disparity in Wisconsin is in Dane County, where Madison is located--in 2013, 74 percent of Black children were below the poverty line, in contrast to 5.5 percent of white children, a 13-to-1 ratio. Madison recently gained notoriety as one of the most racist cities in the country based on the number of anti-Black "Tweets" over an 18-month period.

The March 4 demonstration addressed some specific issues that need to be confronted if we are to reverse these alarming statistics. Community control of the police was one of the big rallying points. "If the community would have had control of the police, Matt Kenny would be gone," said Brandi Grayson a leader of YGB.

Asked whether there has been a conversation between activists and the Madison police, Tyriek Mack, a member of All Minds Matter, the Black Liberation Coalition and BlackOut, said, "There has not been a significant effort to get the community involved in the institution." One of the only official responses came last year when, following an open letter from YGB demanding an end to excessive racial disparities in the policing of Black neighborhoods, Police Chief Michael Koval penned a dismissive response.

Speakers at the demonstration went on to discuss in greater detail America's long history of racism, educating attendees on the origins of the modern police as patrols created to assist in the recovery and punishment of slaves.

Because of how deeply entrenched racism towards Blacks is in the U.S., the struggle of the disenfranchised is interconnected. "Your liberation is tied to Black liberation" was a mantra for Grayson's speech to the crowd. On the subject of police brutality, she made sure to be clear that "white people are affected...but at a disproportionate rate to Black people."

The Friday rally ended with a 20-minute occupation of the Overture Center, the city's main concert center, which stands as a symbol of the unfairly allocated funds of the city. Grayson talked about how millions of dollars of the city budget were spent on this extravagant downtown building, which most impoverished people can't even afford to attend events at, while public schools and community programs are continually undercut and left by the wayside.

This allocation of funds contributing to racial disparity is especially heinous in the case of Gov. Scott Walker's budgets, which give more taxpayer dollars to prisons and correctional facilities than the UW system, taking money away from schools and dumping it into the prison-industrial complex.

It was clear at the March 4 demonstration that local coalitions are organized and focused as this new civil rights movement continues. The speeches were inspirational and informative. Every part of the event--from the march, to the moments of silence for Tony Robinson at strategic intersections, to occupation of the Overture Center--was planned, well-coordinated and made a point. "[We] definitely accomplished the goal of building a larger coalition, and continued the dialogue of talking about police brutality and police violence," said Mack.

Reflecting on the past year of activism, Mack stated: "I think that everything that has happened has empowered a lot of people and made people aware of the things happening in Madison...I think that is really important when it comes to building a movement." He went on to stress, however, that the struggle is far from over. "The more people that support what you do, the more people that are against what you do," he said.

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