Tony Robinson Killing Highlights Wisconsin's Racial Inequities

Soon after becoming governor in 2011, Scott Walker eliminated funding for the state's first program to track and remedy Wisconsin's worst-in-the-country rate of racial disparities. The program, aimed at monitoring racial profiling during traffic stops, had only taken effect one month earlier, and Walker declared that the repeal "allows law enforcement agencies to focus on doing their jobs."

Then-State Bar President James C. Boll, Jr., said at the time "[t]he data collection just began this year. At best, to repeal this requirement now would signal that the Legislature has concluded, without any empirical basis, that racial profiling does not exist in Wisconsin or is not a significant problem."

Yet Wisconsin does, in fact, have significant problems. The state has the highest rate of incarceration of black men in the country, and most Wisconsin counties arrest black people at exceptionally high rates--even outpacing the disparities in Ferguson, Missouri.

These issues boiled to the surface this week after a white Madison police officer, Matt Kenny, shot and killed an unarmed 19-year-old black teenager named Tony Robinson on March 6. Hundreds of people have taken to the streets and filled the state capitol, chanting "black lives matter" and mourning Robinson, who recently graduated from a high school in a suburb near Madison and was slated to attend Madison Area Technical College next fall.

"He was a beautiful, beautiful soul, and everyone that knew him knew that," said Robinson's grandmother, Sharon Irwin.

Robinson's shooting will be investigated by the state Department of Justice, under a law spearheaded by state Rep. Chris Taylor that passed last year with bipartisan support requiring outside agencies to investigate officer-involved deaths. Walker's 2016-2017 budget declined to fully fund the program.

On the Surface, Madison an Unlikely Place for "the Next Ferguson"

Madison's Police Chief Mike Koval has not denied the parallels between the death of Tony Robinson in Madison and Mike Brown in Ferguson. “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,” he said.

Yet at first glance, the state capitol of Madison may seem an unlikely place for "the next Ferguson."

In many U.S. cities there is a 10- to 25- percent disparity between representation of people of color on the police force and in the community. (In Ferguson, just 3 of the 53 officers were African-American in a community that is 60 percent black.) In Madison, in contrast, around 18 percent of the department's officers are people of color, nearly matching the 22 percent in the city. Officers have reportedly received training in unconscious racial bias for over six years, well before the issue reached a fever pitch in the national conversation after Ferguson, and the department has long claimed to prioritize efforts to address racial disparities.

Madison is an unabashedly liberal city, even among the police force. In 2011, many Madison police officers marched against Governor Walker's anti-union Act 10 legislation, even though their unions were exempted from the law. And when the U.S. Supreme Court OK'd same-sex marriages in Wisconsin last October, three Madison police officers took it upon themselves to bring wedding cake to the newlyweds celebrating outside the City-County building in Madison.

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A photo of the three officers carrying the wedding cake went viral; the officer who came up with the idea to buy the cake, and who was in the center of the picture, is Matt Kenny.

Yet despite Madison's egalitarian ideals, it is a highly segregated city that has a complicated relationship with race, and the outpouring of anguish and frustration after Robinson's death laid bare the often-neglected racial tensions in the city.

“Here in our little bubble of Madison, Wisconsin," Robinson's aunt, Lorien Carter, said during a protest after her nephew's shooting, "I want y’all to know, that for minorities, we are [in one of] the top five worst places to live. But we are [also in one of the] three happiest cities to be in. So who is it happy for?”

Deep Racial Divide within a Progressive City

"Madison thinks of itself as a great place to live, but this isn't the case for many people of color," said Leland Pan, a member of the Dane County Board of Supervisors.

Madison's overall demographics do not reflect that the city's minority populations reside largely in disinvested communities on the north and south side. Over 54 percent of Dane County's African-American residents live below the poverty line, compared to just 8.7 percent of whites. Madison's upper-middle-class downtown and campus areas--with the lakes, running trails, farmer's markets, and craft beer bars that put Madison among the top rankings for best U.S. cities--are overwhelmingly white, and are often not very inclusive.

Madison's racial dynamics are reflected in criminal justice statistics. Police in Madison arrest African-Americans at a rate more than nine times higher than members of other racial or ethnic groups. At least 80 percent of young people in juvenile detention facilities in Madison were African-American, as of 2013. And according to a 2007 Justice Policy Institute report, a black resident of Dane County was more than 97 times more likely to go to jail for a drug crime than a white resident.

Ferguson Said "Enough," Madison Can Too

In recent months, community groups and members of the Dane County Board had been advocating against a proposal to construct a new $150 million jail in Dane County, which many believe could have the effect of perpetuating the county's racial disparities. Rather than spending $150 million on building a jail, Dane County could direct those resources toward incarceration alternatives and greater investment in Madison's communities of color. Although the Dane County Board blocked the jail plan after public protests, activists Z Haukeness and Karma Chavez noted that "there has been less attention paid than one might imagine to the proposal" among the community-at-large.

Even as Madisonians expressed outrage at the police killings of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York, and Dontre Hamilton in Milwaukee, there was little urgency in addressing the city's own problems with race and criminal justice. Now, after the killing of Tony Robinson, Madison's problems can no longer be ignored.

"This should eviscerate the last shred of the myth that things that happened in Ferguson can't happen in Madison," Pan said. "This is one of the core issues Madison needs to tackle."

“We know Ferguson because that community said ‘enough,’” activist M Adams told the Capital Times. “That's what we have to do here.”


First off Tony Robinson was biracial but automatically the article focusses on his black side. 2nd why don't you talk about the crimes black folks commit against each other? How everyday they shoot each other in alarming rates? This young adult and yes young adult not a teenager he was 19 yrs old he can vote and join the military. Was running in and out of traffic and was choking people and then he assaulted the police officer and you focus on how a bi racial adult was shot by a white police officer. Same thing in Ferguson Mike Brown attacked a police officer cops are humans too they have families they wanna go home to in this article and any other article no one I mean NO ONE mentions how these THUGS assaulted a police officer or their criminal past. Heck Tony Robinson was on probation for an home invasion his the judge would have sentenced him how the law was written he would have been in jail and he wouldn't of been shot but no grandma had to write a letter to the judge for sympathy for a lighter sentence. Tony Robinson failed his family and the community plain and simple.

Or society has failed us all by making corporation people (when was the last time you saw one give birth) and money is free speech..The steps to this day have long been in the making, No one is perfect, no one has the perfect upbringing, but when you add to that the stress of living while black,things can go awry. We do not know what choices Tony would of made in the future, but he was slated to attend school 80percent of the kids being black in Juvenile detention is not because the kids acre worse then the white kids(in most instances) but of a system that relays on Blacks filling up the facilities that are for the most part for profit.Even if either of those two young men did something to approach harming the cop, neither had a gun.and neither have many of the hundreds that were stopped by police this year and killed.or beaten badly. It feels safe to think that someone must of deserved what happened to them, and if they did nothing , nothing would happen. But that is not true anymore, if it ever was even true, and it is getting worse day by day. Someday you just may find yourself stopped while doing nothing wrong, and learn the hard way , that of all the good cops, it just takes a bad one to make your life heel, and there are far too many of them around.if you are white you just may come out alive, and if you are not white i hope you don't have to learn that you are wrong by not being able to walk away. As far as him being bi racial in todays society he would still be seen as Black..and treated as such

Start off by reading over 1000 pages of the grand jury testimony. Finish it off by reading the 88 page DOJ report on Darren Wilson and Mike Brown. Then you can have at least a basis for commenting on what happened in Ferguson. The widely bashed investigation of the initial shooting of Michael Brown was performed painstaking in detail by St. Louis County, not by Darren Wilson himself as widely reported. The body lay on the street for four hours, as reported, but as was testified to, this is not unusual in a case where someone has been killed. NOT reported, was the fact that several times the investigators had to be pulled back to safety due to the crowd which became threatening and required additional officers to be brought in to protect the investigators. They were deliberate and exact in gathering evidence, such as measuring the blood trail of Michael Brown, which proved beyond a doubt that he had moved back toward the officer 21.6 feet, directly contradicting the testimony of the two witnesses who claimed that he had turned with his hands up, never moving toward the officer. Dorian Johnson, who started the narrative of hands up don't shoot, was identified by all the witnesses as having run for cover as the initial shots were fired, and was hiding behind a car on the back side (passenger side) of the police vehicle, in no position to witness what happed from the initial shots fired to the time the final shots were fired. Additionally, Dorian left the scene only to change clothes (to prevent from being identified) and return to the scene to speak to the media. The media also failed to report on the mob mentality that frightened witnesses who would testify to anything other than the narrative that Brown was an innocent shot by the cops. The NAACP was interviewing witnesses prior to their being interviewed by the police, and one witness who testified to the hands up don't shoot narrative eventually admitted to police that she hadn't actually witnessed anything, that she was testifying to what other people "had said what happened" and was portraying it as if she had actually been a witness. Another witness came forward months later to "corroborate the story" because she wanted to be "a part of the story". There is so much more than what I can list, but the DOJ report does an excellent job of summarizing the Grand Jury testimony. When people quote the DOJ report that says "there is no credible witness or evidence that can disprove Officer Wilson's testimony" and say that it just means that they "just can't prove it", that is strictly not true. Read the entire report, it is damming and it doesn't mince words about the lies, intimidation, and outright coercion perpetrated by the community of Ferguson against the officer himself. It is a shame that the media didn't find it just to provide a balance to the months of reporting on the story, as well as the "scathing" report of the years of profiling by Ferguson police. Somehow, releasing the two together created the idea that the outrage against Wilson was justified due to the profiling. If we really want to move forward, let's find a different starting point than Michael Brown. It is a tragedy that he died, but we have to look at the facts of that day. I think the white community can get on board with changing the way we police our communities, but if the black community wants to reach them and get on the same side of the issue, they will need to find a different starting point. Otherwise, both sides end up yelling past each other, and NOTHING gets done.