(AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, Steve Apps)
Though President Obama’s trip to Selma and speech to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic marches caught national headlines, Madison, WI, thrust itself into the national spotlight this weekend, after a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager on March 6.
Though the case, which closely resembles previous officer-involved shootings in recent memory such as those in Ferguson and New York, it has its differences. According to a new state law, the official investigation of an officer-involved shooting goes under the state’s department of criminal investigation.
Madison Police Chief Mike Koval acknowledged this in a press conference, where he said “We will only supplement their needs as they request it.” Attorney General Brad Schimmel also released a statement Saturday, promising “a thorough, professional, and transparent investigation into this incident.”
Though some details of the incident are hotly debated, this much is known: Officer Matt Kenny, a 12 year veteran of the police force, shot and killed a 19-year old man identified as Anthony “Tony” Robinson at 1125 Williamson St. on Madison’s East side. Before the shooting, a struggle ensued between Kenny and Robinson in which Kenny received a blow to the head. After five shots, Kenny and backup officers aided Robinson with CPR, though Robinson died after arriving at the hospital.
According to Robinson’s family, he had just graduated from Sun Prairie High school early and hoped to study business at Madison Area Technical College.
“He was unarmed. That’s going to make this all the more complicated for the investigators,” Koval stated. “For the public to accept, to understand and to wait patiently for what other circumstances, if any, were there…such that deadly force had to be used.” .
Kenny had been involved in a 2007 shooting on Madison’s southeast side, though he was cleared of any wrongdoing due to the shooting being a “suicide-by-cop-type” situation, according to authorities. Despite the incident, it currently appears that Kenny’s relationship with the community has not been a negative one; after Wisconsin’s state ban on same-sex marriages was struck down in June, the officer was photographed delivering cakes to newlywed couples.
Protestors descended upon the scene of the shooting late Friday night demanding answers. The following afternoon, protestors marched from the Madison Police Department headquarters to the scene of the shooting, criticizing a police force that many demonstrators claim resembles those in Ferguson, which last week was slammed by a federal report by the department of justice on their racial biases within the department.
Maria Hamilton, the mother of Dontre Hamilton, who was killed last year by a Milwaukee police officer in a downtown park, spoke to demonstrators saying, “We’re going to continue to let our voices be heard.
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin spoke with demonstrators and the media. In a statement, he praised the Madison Police Department as one that “has a well-earned reputation as one of the finest departments in the Country.”
Soglin also promised transparency, saying, “We all deserve to know the facts in this case. Tony Robinson’s family deserves that, and the Madison Police deserve that. When the answers come, we will be open and transparent in communicating them.”
Wisconsin’s history of race relations is a rocky one. Yearly reports have consistently ranked Wisconsin as the worst state in America for the well being of black children. A report by UCLA noted that Milwaukee suspends its black high school students at a rate that surpasses all other states. The city incarcerates the most black men, and is notoriously known as the most segregated city in the country. Madison, which has developed a reputation as a bastion of liberal activism since the 1970s, has one of the largest income disparities between whites and blacks, despite being in one of the wealthiest counties in Wisconsin.
The Young, Gifted, and Black Coalition, which organized the protests on Saturday, plan to hold another one on Tuesday.