A day after massive protests Downtown, Mayor Paul Soglin on Tuesday praised the civility and restraint of the family and supporters of Tony Robinson, the 19-year-old fatally shot by a Madison police officer after an altercation on the Near East Side on Friday.
Meanwhile, Soglin and other city officials say they’ve intensified their focus on city efforts to address racial disparities in the wake of the shooting and noted a study of wearable cameras for police is underway.
Soglin said he didn’t know the status of the investigation into the shooting, which is being handled by the state Division of Criminal Investigation, but said it’s important for the community to continue respect for the law and Constitution. He said the shooting has been hard, “devastating,” for young people, especially those who have never endured a personal or family tragedy.
The mayor thanked Robinson’s family for showing appreciation for support for Robinson’s life without making it anti-police. He also said Madison’s police force is one of the finest organizations in the country, nationally recognized for efforts in community policing.
“This has been a very trying time for all of us in the city of Madison,” Soglin said at a press conference Tuesday morning. “We’re far from seeing this tragedy come to resolution. But we’re very pleased as to what has happened and how the demonstrations have gone to date.”
In an interview, Soglin said the city has been working to address racial disparities but must “act quickly and more comprehensively than we have” through education, training, child care, transportation and addressing substance abuse and mental health.
Later, City Council President Chris Schmidt said: “It’s a big problem. It’s a problem so deeply ingrained. It’s very difficult to formulate clear answers right now.” City leaders, he said, must listen to and respect the black community’s perspective and protesters’ calls to action.
The Young, Gifted and Black Coalition has demanded the mayor and police department pay for Robinson’s funeral services and resources the family needs to heal, but Soglin said legal considerations preclude the city from directly doing so.
But the city is reaching out to local religious leaders to help, Soglin said. “I’m concerned about the well-being of the parents, Anthony’s three siblings and other family members,” he said. “I’d like the community to do something special. I don’t know what it is. I don’t have the answers.”
At the press conference, Soglin shied from comparing Madison to other places with strains between their police and black communities. Instead, he noted Madison is active in Cities United, which tries to make blacks and Latinos part of the education system and economy; President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper program focused on challenges faced by males of color; and a group of cities and counties exploring disparities in education, arrest rates and incarceration.
The mayor said Madison police do extensive training on bias that’s ongoing and must be kept current. The problem, he said, isn’t police bias but the criminal justice system. He said black offenders lacking resources are far more likely to go to jail than whites, starting a cycle of repeat offenses and incarceration. The city, he said, is trying to address the issue through a peer court for some offenses in the South District and conversations with Municipal Court.
The mayor said the city is studying body-mounted cameras for police, including their effects on immigrant communities and domestic violence victims, and wants to ensure cameras don’t inhibit people from calling police.
Mayoral candidate and Ald. Scott Resnick, who proposed that Madison police wear cameras after the police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, last year, said in an interview that he’s unsure how a body-mounted camera might have altered Friday’s tragedy, but that the conversation now might be different.
Soglin said better data is needed to understand links between police calls, substance addiction and mental heath, and that he hopes the City Council will focus resources on neighborhood initiatives rather than advancing timetables for police and fire stations.