Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne announced Tuesday that he will not bring criminal charges against Madison, Wisconsin police officer Matt Kenny for shooting and killing 19-year-old Tony Robinson Jr. on March 6.
“I conclude that this was lawful use of deadly police force,” he said, pausing frequently to mop sweat from his face. He added: “My decision is not based on emotion. Rather, it is the facts as they have been investigated. My decision will not bring Tony Robinson back. My decision will not end racial disparities that exist in our justice system.”
Ozanne, Wisconsin’s first ever black district attorney, said Officer Kenny was responding to three 911 calls about Robinson, who had punched holes in the wall of his apartment and was running in traffic after taking psychedelic mushrooms, Xanax and marijuana — substances confirmed in a later toxicology report.
Ozanne said Officer Kenny claimed Robinson attacked with his fists in the stairwell of his home, and he feared he would fall down the stairs, allowing Robinson to grab his gun. Kenny then fired seven shots in approximately three seconds, which all hit the front of Robinson’s body at close range. Robinson, who later died from his gunshot wounds at a nearby hospital, was unarmed.
Leading up to the announcement, some community members demanded that Officer Kenny be fired and charged with homicide, and even called for the United Nations to investigate the incident, arguing that a domestic justice system that almost never indicts police officers for deadly force cannot be trusted.
The Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, who have led protests in Madison since Robinson was killed, is holding a “mass action” on Wednesday that will include a march, school walk-outs, and the disruption of business and traffic. A statement on the group’s Facebook page said they would not be demonstrating on Tuesday “out of respect for Tony’s family.”
Madison native Matthew Braunginn, a member of the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, told ThinkProgress that the protests hope to connect the dots between the physical and economic violence he sees in his community.
“We are paying our respect to this awful tragedy and Tony’s family, but the ultimate goal is to make sure there are no more Tony Robinsons,” he said. “No matter what happens, this is an individual case that’s a symptom of structural issues.”
Braunginn described some of those structural issues, which he says have made his home state “one of the worst places in the country to live if you’re black.”
Statewide, African Americans are six times more likely to be arrested than people of other races, and black residents of Madison’s Dane County were found to be more than 97 times more likely to go to jail for a drug crime than a white resident.
Economically, the picture is equally grim.
“The unemployment rate for people of color is absolutely unacceptable. We can’t invest in our own country, but we can invest in killing black and brown people on the other side of the world,” said Braunginn. “We need investments right now in black entrepreneurship and affordable housing. Basically, we need a Black New Deal.”
Noting that African Americans have historically been excluded from federal economic programs, including the first New Deal and the GI Bill, Braunginn said, “Now we need something as massive, as substantial.”
It is not yet known whether Department of Justice will investigate the case or whether Robinson’s family will file civil charges.
Speaking to a crowd of demonstrators at the recent Mother’s Day “Million Moms March” against police violence, Robinson’s grandmother Sharon Irwin railed against how police are “trained to shoot to kill, trained how to murder a person and get away with it.”
“If you wear a badge, you’re supposed to protect us. But we don’t have that happening here,” she said. “Everybody’s lives matter, but they target young black men. They targeted my grandson and thought it would be okay. Well, it’s not.”
Robinson was one of more than 100 people killed by police across the US in March alone, the vast majority of them people of color. Irwin told demonstrators in DC that ending such an ongoing tragedy will require solidarity and sustained protest.
“If one of us is attacked, all of us are attacked. You have to find it in your heart to know that,” she said. “Otherwise, all of us are going to go down. And I don’t want anyone to feel what I feel. Every day I cry.”