Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

Grief, Outrage after White Madison, Wisconsin Police Officer Kills Unarmed Black Teen Tony Robinson


Carrying signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and chanting “the whole damn system is guilty,” hundreds of angry and grieving demonstrators rallied and marched in Madison, Wisconsin to protest the latest police shooting of an unarmed black youth by a white police officer.

The Madison State Journal reports 19-year-old Tony Robinson was shot and mortally wounded by Officer Matt Kenny following an altercation at around 6:30 p.m. on Friday. Madison police said Kenny was looking for Robinson after receiving reports of a man jumping in front of moving traffic after assaulting someone.

Kenny followed the teen to an apartment and then forced his way inside after hearing a disturbance. According to police, Robinson assaulted the officer, who fired multiple shots. Robinson later died after being rushed to a local hospital.

Madison Police Chief Mike Koval said that while Kenny was injured during the altercation, Robinson had no weapon.

“He was unarmed. That’s going to make this all the more complicated for the investigators, for the public to accept,” the chief said during a Saturday news conference. Koval said he understood people’s anger and their desire to protest, and that Madison police would “defend, facilitate, foster those First Amendment rights of assembly and freedom of speech.”

But Koval, who called the incident a “tragic death,” also appealed for calm and asked that demonstrators protest in a “nondestructive” manner.

After the shooting, members of the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition led a demonstration near the scene of the incident, where officers had blocked off the site where Robinson was killed. On Saturday, protests continued, with a large group of residents gathering at the Fountain of Life Covenant Church on the city’s South Side.

Sharon Irwin, the victim’s grandmother, read a letter from his mother, Andrea Irwin, urging respect for her son’s memory.

“I can’t even compute what has happened,” Irwin’s statement said. “I haven’t even had a chance to see his body.”

“I appreciate the support and concern,” the letter added, “but I need to focus right now on laying my son to rest and helping him find his place in heaven.”

“He was a beautiful, beautiful soul and everybody that knew him knew that,” said Sharon Irwin.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin called the killing “a tragedy beyond description.”

“I hope as the pain eases that something constructive will come of this,” Soglin told the State Journal. The mayor noted that a new state law mandates that the shooting and others like it must be investigated by an independent agency, in this case the Division of Criminal Investigation, and that “we must give them time to do their job.”

Some protesters accused Madison police of murder.

“The message is that we will not stand for the status quo of injustice,” demonstrator Brandi Grayson told NBC station WMTV. “We have a black boy, viciously murdered by MPD, they immediately framed it as if he provoked the murder — and as if he deserved the murder.”

The State Journal reports Robinson, a 2014 graduate of Sun Prairie High School, was a caretaker of his ailing mother and a father figure to his three younger siblings.

“He was at my house a lot and was always so kind and sweet,”neighbor Doris King told the State Journal. “He called me ‘auntie’ and always asked if he could help me with any chores, like taking out the garbage.”

“He was always trying to help [his mother] with her medications,” King, who called the slain teen a “gentle giant,” added. “He was the oldest in the house, and she relied on him.”

Another neighbor, Olga Ennis, said many local residents do not trust the police and that they are “afraid of the cops.”

Ennis added that Robinson “wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

But Robinson did have a felony conviction on his record. He pleaded guilty last year to armed robbery and had recently begun serving a three-year probation term, according to court records. Chief Koval refused to address the conviction when asked about it at Saturday’s news conference.

“I’m not here to do a character work-up on someone who lost his life less than 24 hours ago,” the chief said.

The Associated Press reports Officer Kenny is a 12-year veteran who was involved in a fatal 2007 shooting, but cleared of wrongdoing, as the incident was a ‘suicide by cop’ situation. He has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation.

The neighborhood where Robinson was killed was also the site of a 2012 incident in which former Madison police officer Stephen Heimsness fatally shot Paul Heenan, who was unarmed but drunk and had allegedly reached for the officer’s gun. Heimsness was cleared of any wrongdoing.


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