Wisconsin Activists to Continue Protests After Cop Avoids Charges in Killing of Tony Robinson

May 13, 2015


M Adams

Madison-based activist and organizer with the Young Gifted & Black Coalition and Freedom Inc.

A Madison, Wisconsin, police officer will not face criminal charges for fatally shooting an unarmed African-American teenager. Tony Robinson was shot dead in March after Officer Matt Kenny forced his way into an apartment following a "disturbance." Kenny says Robinson attacked him upon his entry. On Tuesday, the Dane County district attorney said an investigation found Kenny was lawful in firing the fatal shots. Robinson’s family members say they have been denied justice. Hundreds of people marched to the state Capitol on Tuesday in protest of the decision, and more actions are underway today. We are joined by M Adams, a Madison-based activist and organizer with the Young Gifted & Black Coalition.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: A prosecutor in Madison, Wisconsin, has announced no criminal charges will be filed against the Madison police officer who fatally shot an unarmed African-American teenager earlier this year. Tony Robinson was shot dead in March after Officer Matt Kenny forced his way into an apartment following a "disturbance." Police say they had responded to reports of a man running in and out of traffic. On Tuesday, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne announced the decision.

DISTRICT ATTORNEY ISMAEL OZANNE: I conclude that this tragic and unfortunate death was the result of a lawful use of deadly police force and that no charges should be brought against Officer Kenny in the death of Tony Robinson Jr. I am concerned that recent violence around our nation is giving some in our communities a justification for fear, hatred and violence.

AMY GOODMAN: Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne. In 2010, he became Wisconsin’s first African-American DA. After the announcement was made, authorities released black-and-white dash cam footage showing Officer Matt Kenny stepping alone into the house. Seconds later, he backs out of the front door while firing seven shots into the home.

MATT KENNY: [shots fired] Stop right there! Don’t move!

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Tony Robinson’s family members held a press conference on Tuesday. Speakers included Robinson’s grandmother, Sharon Irwin.

SHARON IRWIN: I will miss him the rest of my life, when you guys go home and you don’t deal with this anymore. This is a forever thing with me. And I just want to say this is politics and not justice.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In a show of support for Tony Robinson’s family, hundreds of people marched peacefully to the state Capitol Tuesday. The protesters vowed to continue demanding justice for Robinson. One of the groups that organized the demonstrations has been the Young Gifted & Black Coalition. The group announced they’ll rally this morning in front of the apartment house where Robinson was shot and killed. They’re calling for a "Black-Out Wednesday," where people stop business as usual and come out on the streets to demand police accountability. Activists are also calling on Madison to address racial disparities in incarceration rates. A 2013 Race to Equity report found African Americans in Madison’s Dane County made up less than 9 percent of the youth population, but nearly 80 percent of those incarcerated in juvenile prison.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go now to Madison, Wisconsin, where we’re joined by M Adams, a Madison-based activist and organizer with the Young Gifted & Black Coalition and Freedom Inc.

M Adams, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the announcement yesterday, the DA saying he will not bring charges against Officer Kenny?

M ADAMS: So, none of us were surprised that the DA decided to not bring criminal charges against Matt Kenny for murdering Tony Robinson. We do know this is part of an historical pattern, an historical use of structural racism within police departments that justify the murdering of young black people, and particularly unarmed black people. And we, as a result, understand that deep transformational change needs to happen within the existing system in order to ultimately create justice and prevent police murders from happening in the future.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what do you say to those who claim that Tony Robinson was violent and posed a risk?

M ADAMS: We know that the violence was the seven shots that killed him. So, one, we don’t know what happened in the house. We have one side of the story. And, two, if it was you or I or any other person who went into somebody’s house, and we said maybe there was a fight, and as a result, we had shot that person seven times, we, as untrained people, as unarmed people, we, as people without the law on our side, people without an entire police force and culture that would back us, we would be told that that was excessive and that the level of violence that we used did not match for what the actual threat was. And so, police actually have far more training, far more weapons, far more resource, an entire force that backs them up, and the law has so many other things on their side. So they’re actually far more trained than us, so we expect for them to behave far better, to a higher standard than you and I would be held to. So if you and I would be told that that was murder, then it definitely is murder from a police officer.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne’s press conference. Before announcing he would not bring charges against Officer Kenny, the DA spoke about his own identity as the first African-American district attorney in Wisconsin’s history.

DISTRICT ATTORNEY ISMAEL OZANNE: I am a man who understands the pain of unjustified profiling, and I am the first district attorney of color not only in Dane County, but in the state of Wisconsin. I make note of this because it is through this lens that I approach and accept my leadership responsibilities. Those responsibilities involve an oath I took to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America and the Constitution of the state of Wisconsin. In this matter, my role and obligation is to weigh the facts and determine if Officer Kenny should be criminally charged. I am cognizant of the very real racial disparities and equity issues which exist in this county.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne. M, can you talk about your response to what the district attorney said? And also, M Adams, if you could talk about what happened—what you understand happened on March 6, the day that Tony Robinson was killed?

M ADAMS: On March 6, Tony Robinson’s friends called the police to get help for Tony Robinson, because they thought he was behaving in a way that warranted help from an outside source. So the police were called and were notified that, "Look, my friend’s here having a hard time. Maybe he took something." The police show up, and within seconds or within minutes of the police showing up, Tony Robinson was murdered, or Tony Robinson was, rather, assassinated by the police department. And so, our reaction to hearing the DA talk about this as not legally being a murder, we are absolutely opposed to. This is absolutely murder.

There are two things that we should understand, is that, one, if the police are being called for help because someone is experiencing a mental wellness issue, we should expect that the people who are called for help would not show up and kill the person who is experiencing the mental wellness challenge. And, two, I understand that the DA is talking about particular laws, but the laws here are actually immoral. And what we also know to be true is that when white—when white people, when white unarmed people are killed once every 28 hours, which is the rate in which black people are killed by the police or vigilantes who are acting as the police, we know that the laws will be interpreted different, and moreover, we would see a change in laws and legislation. So this just shows us that not only are the police unjust, and not only is the DA’s Office biased and unfair, but also the legal system as a whole, which includes the laws, are a part of the system of structural racism and biased and unfair.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, M Adams, you’re wearing a Free the 350 T-shirt. What is the Free the 350 campaign?

M ADAMS: So, if there was no structural racism within the jail system or the criminal justice system, then you could expect that the jail population would mirror or match the population of the county or the city or wherever that jail is based. And so, in Dane County, there’s roughly a 5 percent black population, and so we should expect that county jail should be roughly 5 percent black. But instead, the county’s jail population is roughly 50 percent black. And so, at any given time there’s about 800 folks incarcerated, and close to 400 are black. The only way we’re going to end the racial disparity or the only way we’re going to end the disproportionate amount of black people incarcerated is to immediately release 350 black people, who we know are incarcerated due to crimes of poverty, to bring the jail population of black folks down to 50 instead of keeping it at 400. You either have to free the 350 to end the racial disparities or you have to lock up close to 6,000 white people, which we are not advocating for, but 6,000 feels like a really big number to the city, but that’s how big of an impact 350 are to our community. And we are advocating for the release.

AMY GOODMAN: A report from nonprofit initiative Race to Equity found African-American youth in Dane County, where Madison is located, are more than six times as likely to be arrested as white youth in 2010, a far higher black-white disparity than the entire state and country. The report also found local African-American youth make up nearly 80 percent of children sentenced to Wisconsin’s juvenile correctional facility, even though they comprise only 9 percent of the county’s youth population. And according to a preliminary analysis of the Madison Police Department’s 2013 annual report, African-American adults are nearly 11 times more likely than white adults to be arrested in the city. M Adams, your plans today in Madison, Wisconsin?

M ADAMS: Today we are meeting at the intersection of Few and Williamson Street, which is the intersection near where Tony Robinson was murdered. And we are going to rally and demonstrate our power, and we are going to march up to the county—or, yes, the city courthouse, where we are going to conduct a people’s court, where we are going to review the facts as we understand it, as the community, relating to the Tony Robinson murder. And then the community is going to deliberate as to whether or not this is actually murder. And there, we’re going to demonstrate our power and demand transformative justice, such as community control over the police, calling for a completely independent investigation led by the U.N. and the immediate release of the 350.

AMY GOODMAN: M Adams, we want to thank you for being with us, speaking to us from Madison, Wisconsin, activist and organizer with the Young Gifted & Black Coalition, as well as Freedom Inc. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go directly to Washington, D.C. Democrats in the Senate went against the president of the United States on giving fast-track authority to negotiate the TPP. Stay with us.

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