Nearly 2,000 Wisconsin Students Swarm State Capitol Building to Protest Police Killing of Black Teenager
Hundreds of Wisconsin high school and university students left their classrooms and occupied the state capitol building on Monday to protest about the fatal police shooting of unarmed black teenager Tony Robinson, who was killed by a white Madison police officer last week.
The protesters held signs bearing the hallmarks of the national movement against police brutality that has erupted following the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson in August 2014, and chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot!”
Robinson was killed on Friday at around 6.30pm CT after police responded to a call reporting that the 19-year-old was jumping in and out of traffic and was alleged to have been involved in an assault.
Madison police officer Matt Kenny broke into an apartment where Robinson had been located after hearing a “disturbance”.
Police say Robinson assaulted the officer before he was shot dead by Kenny.
The 12-year veteran of the force had fatally shot a 48-year-old man in 2007 but was subsequently exonerated.
Police scanner audio posted online on Saturday shows that officers had been told Robinson’s name and age before arriving on the scene. He is described by the police dispatcher as “yelling and jumping in front of cars”. The dispatcher later says “Tony hit one of his friends” adding “no weapons seen”.
Protesters eventually left the capitol and marched down State Street, past the federal courthouse before reaching the City County Building, a block from the state capitol.
A video posted by @missangiebeee on
There, leaders of the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition as well as Robinson’s sister, entered the building and asked to speak with the chief of police, Mike Koval.
When they were told the chief was not available, the group began chanting: “United we stand, divided we fall. An injury to one is an injury to all.”
Justice Muse, 14 and a cousin of Robinson’s, told the Guardian: “It was great what they’re [protesters] doing for him. It’s great how they’re trying to bring justice for him, and I’m happy with what they’re doing. I want to see the cop who killed him put in jail. I want to see him punished for his actions.”
Local reports suggested that some of those on the protest were students of Sun Prairie high school, from which Robinson had recently graduated.
The protests come as local politicians seized on the incident to call for Wisconsin’s governor, Scott Walker, to approve further funding for the state department of justice, which is leading the investigation into Robinson’s death.
The Wisconsin legislature passed a bill last April that mandates outside investigators examine fatal incidents at the hands of law enforcement officials. But Democratic state representative Chris Taylor, one of the bill’s sponsors, said Walker had declined to provide key funding to allow the legislation to work effectively.
Two state attorney generals have requested additional funding of $736,000 over two years to allow the state department of justice to employ five extra staff to oversee these investigations. Walker did not provide any additional funding in the most recent state budget.
“This governor needs to fund the law that he has touted,” Taylor told the Guardian, adding that she would push for further oversight and due process in investigations into fatal police shootings. “This [legislation] was just a little tip of the iceberg … It was never going to be a panacea to solve all the problems. It was just a first step.”
Madison’s police chief has acknowledged similarities between the shooting of Robinson and that of Brown in Ferguson, but has defended his department in the wake of criticism.
“To the extent that you have, again, a person of color, unarmed, who subsequently loses his life at the hands of the police, I can’t very well distance myself from that brutal reality,” Koval told reporters on Saturday.
“What I can suggest, however, is that while I cannot castigate other shops, I can be proud of the shop that I own.”
On Monday Koval published a post on the Madison police website issuing an apology for the death.
“Reconciliation cannot begin without my stating ‘I am sorry,’ and I don’t think I can say this enough. I am sorry. I hope that, with time, Tony’s family and friends can search their hearts to render some measure of forgiveness,” Koval wrote.
Protests and vigils in Madison over the weekend were peaceful and Koval, and Mayor Paul Soglin pledged transparency in communicating results of the investigation.
The police shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson last year set off weeks of protests. Early protests in Ferguson were accompanied by looting and the police response was criticised as heavy-handed. That and a long delay in releasing the name of the officer who shot Brown fueled outrage over the shooting.
Madison, a city of 240,000 people, has a mostly white population that is 7% African American, US census figures show.
Kenny is on paid administrative leave while the Wisconsin department of justice investigates the shooting.
He was exonerated in 2007 after he shot and killed a 48-year-old man who pointed a gun at officers and refused to drop his weapon. The suspect’s gun was later determined to be a replica, not a real weapon.
Wisconsin court records show that Robinson pleaded guilty to armed robbery last year and received a probated six-month sentence.
The department of justice investigation into the shooting is likely to take weeks if not months to complete.
Organisers say more protests are planned throughout the week.