TODD RICHMOND, Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Some of the Madison Police Department’s toughest critics peacefully protested in the hours after a prosecutor said he wouldn’t charge a white officer who killed an unarmed biracial man. But the city faced another test Wednesday as activists called for a widespread walkout.
After recent riots in cities where white officers have killed black men — including Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore — Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne’s announcement Tuesday raised concerns that things could turn violent in Wisconsin’s capital city.
The Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, which called on black people and students to walk out of work and school on Wednesday morning, has staged multiple non-violent protests since Tony Robinson’s death on March 6. The group had demanded that Madison Officer Matt Kenny be fired and charged with homicide.
On Wednesday morning, scores of protesters began gathering outside of the apartment house where the shooting happened, chanting “No justice, no peace, no racist police.” They planned to march into downtown Madison to conduct a street trial of the city’s police force.
Volunteers from community groups such as 100 Black Men and the Urban League watched nearby and planned to advise anyone who looked to be on the verge of committing a crime to think twice.
Ozanne, who is biracial but identifies himself as black, is Wisconsin’s first minority district attorney. He pointed out his racial heritage as he made the announcement, saying he views Robinson’s death through that lens but made his decision based on the facts.
“I am concerned that recent violence around our nation is giving some in our community a justification for fear, hatred and violence,” Ozanne said Tuesday. “I am reminded that true and lasting change does not come from violence but from exercising our voices and our votes.”
Police Chief Mike Koval said at a news conference Tuesday evening he was “hoping for a different sort of outcome in our community in the days to come” than the unrest experienced elsewhere.
“I’m confident those outcomes can be more constructive,” he said.
On Tuesday, about 275 supporters joined Robinson’s family in a march to the Capitol after the announcement, but they dispersed peacefully long before sunset. Young, Gifted and Black didn’t take part in that rally, as its leaders said they wanted to stand down Tuesday out of respect for Robinsin’s family.
“YGB did not anticipate justice would be served by the same system that killed Robinson and continues to violently target Black and Brown people,” the group said in a statement.
Koval clashed with the group for months before Robinson’s death, calling members’ demands for authorities to release 350 black inmates and leave black neighborhoods untenable. In his blog Tuesday, the chief outlined the city ordinances governing demonstrations and the types of actions that can lead to arrests. He did not mention Young, Gifted and Black by name.
“I have no doubt that some individuals will make a principled decision to get arrested in order to make a definitive statement,” Koval wrote. “That is, in fact, a hallmark of civil disobedience and that decision is highly personal and should not be coaxed from others as the consequences will only affect the violator.”
According to witness accounts released by the state Department of Justice, Robinson was tripping on mushrooms at a friend’s apartment on the night he was killed and got violent. He tried to grab one friend’s crotch and took a swing at another friend. He later went outside and punched a man on the sidewalk, strangled another man at a gas station across the street, ran in and out of traffic and took a swing at a couple before going back inside.
Kenny responded to 911 calls and found the apartment house door open. He heard what he believed to be a disturbance in the upstairs apartment and thought someone was being attacked, he told investigators.
He drew his firearm and began to climb the stairs. He was near the top when he announced himself as a police officer. Robinson appeared and punched him in the head, he said.
Kenny said he was worried Robinson would knock him down the stairs, take his gun, shoot him and then kill whoever was in the apartment so he opened fire, hitting Robinson seven times. Kenny told the DOJ agent he couldn’t use nonlethal force because of “space and time considerations.”
Another officer arrived and checked the apartment only to find it empty.
“Stay with me. Stay with me,” Kenny said he told Robinson before paramedics arrived. As other officers led Kenny away, a responding firefighter told investigators she heard him swearing to himself over and over.
Ozanne said toxicology reports confirmed Robinson had taken mushrooms, smoked marijuana and taken Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug.
Associated Press writers Scott Bauer and Dana Ferguson contributed to this report.
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