Several Tony Robinson protesters arrested after blocking traffic near jail

Several Tony Robinson protesters arrested after blocking traffic near jail


In a second consecutive day of demonstrations, about 300 protesters marched from Williamson Street to Downtown Madison on Wednesday calling for justice for Tony Robinson, the young black man killed in March by Madison police officer Matt Kenny, who was not charged in the shooting.

Though still peaceful, Wednesday’s larger demonstration had a harsher tone, and 28 protesters were arrested mid-afternoon for an act of civil disobedience in which they locked arms and blocked Doty Street in front of the Public Safety Building.

Police encircled the 28, then calmly and methodically led them away one by one in handcuffs to awaiting vans. They were cited and fined $124 for obstructing a roadway, a city ordinance violation, said police spokesman Joel DeSpain.

Twenty-seven of the protesters were released, DeSpain said. One was taken to the Dane County Jail for a suspected probation violation on a prior offense, he said.

The arrests came toward the end of a daylong series of protest actions that began Wednesday morning in front of the residence on Williamson Street where Robinson was fatally shot after what police say was an altercation with Kenny. About 50 people had amassed at the site by 9 a.m., including Stephanie Sears, who just moved to Madison from Morgantown, West Virginia, to take a job at UW-Madison as a research physicist.

“I heard the district attorney’s decision (not to charge Kenny) and decided to answer the call by community leaders to demonstrate today,” Sears said. “It was important for me to show up, to support them.”

The march to Downtown began about 10:30 a.m. behind large banners saying “Justice for Tony” and “Black Lives Matter.” Alix Shabazz of the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition told marchers not to interact with officers.

“Nothing positive could come from talking to the police,” she said.

Ericka Bach of Madison, a white supporter of the coalition, told the crowd some sobering statistics.

“Five other black people were killed nationwide on the same day Tony Robinson was shot,” she said. “Two hundred and twenty have died due to police violence just in the nine weeks since Tony Robinson was shot.”

J.T. Ruffin, 18, a senior who attended Sun Prairie High School with Robinson, questioned the need for Kenny to use violence to control Robinson even though police say he was on drugs and acting aggressively and punched Kenny.

“I’ve been down to Camp Randall Stadium, and I’ve seen people act way worse,” Ruffin said. “They’re throwing stuff and destroying property. They don’t get shot.”

When the protesters reached the Dane County Courthouse, they held what they called a “people’s court” to symbolically overrule District Attorney Ismael Ozanne’s decision Tuesday not to charge Kenny.

“It is clear that the community feels that Matt Kenny murdered Tony Robinson,” M Adams, a coalition leader, said in her role as “judge.”

The people’s court “charges the city of Madison to enact complete community control over the police,” she said.

Adams and other speakers at the rally reiterated their call for a United Nations investigation of Robinson’s death and for 350 black inmates to be released from the county jail “to end the racial disparity of incarceration.”

Later at the Public Safety Building, which houses the county jail, six people attempted for more than two hours to block a vehicle entrance to an inmate unloading area and another six did the same at a vehicle exit.

One of them, Nell Schaefer, 30, of Madison, locked her neck to a post outside the jail entrance using a bicycle lock.

Brandi Grayson, another coalition leader, said that if Kenny won’t be going to jail, no one else should either.

“If we as a city refuse to prosecute Matt Kenny for murder, the worst crime possible, then how can we arrest people for crimes of poverty?” she said.

None of the 12 blocking the doors was black, and they were chosen by organizers specifically for that reason.

“We have this privilege that when police see us, they’re not threatened, whereas black people are looked at with suspicion,” said Kristen Brock-Petroshius, 33, of Madison, who is white. Eight months pregnant, she was among those later arrested for obstructing Doty Street.

The temporary blocking of the jail doors did not appear to lead to any problems with police.

Around 3 p.m., about 2 ½ hours after demonstrators shut down Doty Street, police began arresting the people in the street after first giving ample warning.

Organizers also made clear to the protesters what was about to happen.

“If you don’t want to be arrested, leave the street now!” Adams yelled.

Greg Jones, president of the Dane County NAACP and a volunteer peacekeeper, observed the arrests and said he thought both sides handled themselves well.

“The protesters exercised their rights to the highest degree through civil disobedience, and law enforcement officers, after a period of time, had to exercise their right to open the street back up to traffic,” he said.

After the arrests, traffic began flowing for a short time, but then protesters started walking back and forth across the street in the crosswalk en masse, effectively stopping traffic as vehicles were forced to yield to the pedes-trians.

That began a cat-and-mouse game in which police periodically directed traffic, allowing it to flow again, until protesters again took to the crosswalks.

Some of the most heated rhetoric was directed at police at this time, including one man who yelled, “Oh, you’ll protect pedestrians from getting killed but not black teenagers.”

Several protesters, including one small boy, carried signs reading “(Expletive) the police.”

State Journal reporters Karen Rivedal and David Wahlberg and reporter Bill Novak contributed to this report.


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