NLG-Madison Chapter Statement on the Exoneration of Officer who Killed 19-Year-Old Tony Robinson


Contact: Anthony Prince, NLG-Madison
608-233-7355 or 510-301-1472                  

“We don’t want to just stop at Black Lives Matter…”
          -Turin Carter, uncle of Tony Robinson on the decision not to indict Madison policeman Matt Kenny

Protests continue and 28 people were arrested in Madison, Wisconsin in reaction to Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne’s announcement that no charges will be filed in the March 6 police killing of Tony Robinson, 19. The unarmed, mixed African-American and white youth has become the latest symbol and example of escalating state-sanctioned deadly force. Attorneys for Robinson’s family pointed to conflicting and shifting stories from Matt Kenny, the 13-year veteran officer who fired seven times only 22 seconds after arriving at the scene, reportedly in violation of orders to wait for back up. In this case, the failure of the police to call in mental health professionals after receiving reports that the young victim was in distress has also been cited. In 2007, Kenny was exonerated in the killing of another unarmed man, Brandon Thomas.

Leading the struggle for accountability here are the youth who have walked out of schools, massed at the State Capitol and denounced the national epidemic of officer-involved shootings, historically and disproportionately concentrated against poor people of color. On the other hand, the uncharged 2012 fatal Madison police shooting of Paul Heenan, a 30-year old white artist and now Robinson, son of an African American father and white mother — shows that increasingly, police terror is reaching broader segments of the population. As Tony Robinson’s uncle Turin Carter told local media, “We don’t want to just stop at Black Lives Matter.”

The Madison Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) expresses its outrage at the failure to charge Tony Robinson’s killer and continues to stand in solidarity with those battling for police accountability here and across the country. In the weeks and days leading up to this decision, determined efforts were made to curb the justifiable anger of the community, hoping that “faith in the system” would replace the determination of young leaders to independently investigate and organize for justice. Clearly, we need to find bold new approaches both inside and outside the courthouse and in close collaboration with the targeted communities to end this wave of unchecked police violence. To that end the Madison NLG will continue to collaborate with community groups such as Young, Gifted and Black and others who are determined to obtain justice.

Finally, this incident must be seen within the context of the devaluation of black life and human life in general in Wisconsin. According to a blistering report from the Annie G. Casey Foundation, Wisconsin rates dead last in the well-being of black children and the Wisconsin Dept. of Corrections warehouses African Americans at a higher rate than any other state. Among Wisconsinites of all ethnicities, poverty and joblessness are growing while budget cuts are decimating the few programs that exist for the state’s most marginalized populations. Clearly, a system that can’t provide food and shelter ultimately turns to violence.

On Sunday May 17 a workshop on legal observing and jail support for legal workers and community activists is being presented by the NLG Chicago Legal Observer project and the Chicago Action Medical team at the UW Law School Room 3260, from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.  The NLG calls upon the justice-seeking legal community of Wisconsin and across the country to step up to the challenge represented by these killings and other forms of state-sponsored repression. We are encouraged by the Madison youth of all nationalities, a new generation that will no longer accept the status quo. Their defense is a necessary part of the mission of the National Lawyers Guild—to elevate human rights over property rights and stand with those on the front lines of that struggle.

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