Madison students take to the streets for justice

April 16, 2015

Corey Larson reports from Madison after high schools students took the lead in the latest demonstrations to demand justice for a victim of police violence.

"I'M A senior at East High. I got arrested for fighting for what I believe in. I was fighting for my cousin, Tony Robinson, who was shot by a Madison police officer on March 6. And we're out here protesting today, and I stayed out in the street when they asked us to leave. So I got a truancy ticket and an obstructing traffic ticket. Hopefully we can get answers to the questions we need, and if not, we're gonna keep doing what we're doing now until we get it."

Those were the words of Jivonte Davis, a student at East High School in Madison, Wisconsin. Davis was arrested April 14 during a demonstration calling for justice for Tony Robinson, who was shot and killed by a Madison cop in the stairway of a friend's house just over a month before. As part of a national day of action against police violence, Madison high school students staged midday walkouts of East, West, and Memorial High Schools.

After a smaller demonstration at Madison West, up to 150 students and community members converged on the intersection of East Washington Avenue and Fourth Street--and shut down traffic in all directions for eight hours with their sit-in.

Students from Madison high schools staged a walkout for Tony Robinson
Students from Madison high schools staged a walkout for Tony Robinson (Corey Larson | SW)

Although the action was facilitated by the Young, Gifted, and Black Coalition, high school students took the lead in the demonstration. As Sa'mya Rolack, another East High School student, explained:

I've been out here since third period. I've never skipped a day in my life, but today, it was worth something. [Tony Robinson] isn't getting any justice. And it's disturbing people's education, because it's messing with their minds. I learned that they don't care about our lives.

After eight hours, Madison police announced they were going to clear the intersection, and anyone remaining would be arrested. A call went on Facebook and other social media to get as many people as possible to the demonstration, bring supplies like food and water, and protect the youth.

Brandie Carter, Tony Robinson's cousin, had skipped the protest that day because she was feeling sick, but hurried out to protect her children who had helped organize the demonstration. "My friends reached out on Gacebook to let me know that they started arresting kids, with Jivonte being one of them," Carter said. "He's one of Tony Robinson's close friends. When they reached out to let it be known that they're surrounding our kids. I came ASAP."

David Bowen, a state representative for the 10th district in Milwaukee, said:

What's odd is that I just came from a State Assembly session. I saw that Brandi [Grayson]--one of the leaders of Young Gifted and Black--put the message out that they needed people to come out and protect the young people, and that they were protesting today and I didn't know where it was.

But when you're going down Washington Avenue, you can't miss a great group of young people who are out, standing up for what they believe in, right across from the high school.

Asked what he thought about the protests, Bown responded: "I think our young people have seen situations in the civil rights movement and in past movements where their ancestors have stepped up to do something, and they clearly see that this is an issue that affects them, and they're not willing to sweep it under the rug, do nothing and feel hopeless. They know that they have power, and they're going to use it."

WHEN POLICE cleared the streets, Jivonte and three others who stood with him were arrested, including a member of the press.

One of those arrested, Derek Mccan, said he was trying to protect the students. "I was arrested for standing for change--the same reason Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights leaders were arrested," Mccan said. "I was standing up against injustice, racial disparities, police brutality and racism. I was standing for Tony Robinson and the many others killed around the world. We just want change--and I was handcuffed and treated like a robber or a murderer."

Though kicked off the street, but emboldened by the return of people arrested earlier, the demonstrators changed their tactics. Students continued the protest by crossing the street, legally, en masse in the crosswalk.

The situation took another turn when demonstrators in the median had a group hug and someone allegedly brushed a police officer. Seven or eight began violently arresting the peaceful demonstrators. Another 10 people were arrested in this second wave, including another high school student, and police wouldn't say where they were being taken.

The air was tense after the Madison police showed their true colors. Craig Spaulding, a parent of a close friend of Tony Robinson, said an officer came at him with pepper spray drawn, but he fortunately escaped unscathed. The officer refused to give his name and badge number.

Despite all this, the demonstrators stayed strong and committed to justice. As Divonte said: "We want to get justice for Tony, which means we want to know what's going to happen to the officer who killed him. He's going to get fired, alright? He's going to be behind bars. And nationwide, we want the killer cops to stop."

The demonstration concluded late at night after a carpool to the Dane County Public Safety Building, where several of those arrested were being held.

Asked what was next, Christen Justice, a senior at East and friend of Jivonte, said:

We're organizing as a community...We're not just coming out here for no reason--we're coming out because we know what's wrong with what they're doing. What's next? I think we should come back out here tomorrow, stand for what's right and show then that no matter what they do, we're still going to fight for what's right.

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