Peaceful protesters in Madison took to the college town’s streets with chants of “Black Lives Matter” following the fatal shooting of an unarmed black 19-year-old by a white police officer, who authorities say fired after he was assaulted. The city’s police chief said he understood the anger, assuring demonstrators his department would defend their rights as he implored the community to act with restraint.
Tony Robinson died Friday night after being shot in his apartment following a confrontation with Officer Matt Kenny, who had forced his way inside after hearing a disturbance while responding to a call, authorities and neighbors said.
Madison Police Chief Mike Koval on Saturday said Kenny was injured, but didn’t provide details. It wasn’t clear whether Robinson, who died at a hospital, was alone.
“He was unarmed. That’s going to make this all the more complicated for the investigators, for the public to accept,” Koval said of Robinson. The department said Kenny would not have been wearing a body camera.
Several dozen protesters who gathered outside the police department Saturday afternoon held signs and chanted “Black Lives Matter” — a slogan adopted by activists and protesters nationwide after recent officer-involved deaths of unarmed blacks — before walking toward the neighborhood where the shooting took place.
The shooting came days after the U.S. Justice Department said it would not issue civil rights charges against Darren Wilson, the white former Ferguson, Missouri, officer who fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Federal officials did however find patterns of racial profiling, bigotry and profit-driven law enforcement in the St. Louis suburb, which saw spates of sometimes-violent protests in the wake of the shooting and a grand jury’s decision not to charge Wilson.
Other high-profile deaths of black suspects at the hands of police officers have prompted nationwide protests, including that of Eric Garner, who died in July after New York City officers put him in a chokehold and a video showed him repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe.” A Cleveland police officer in November fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who had been pointing a pellet gun at a playground. A Milwaukee police officer who fatally shot Dontre Hamilton last April was found to have acted in self-defense, but was fired for ignoring department policy regarding mental illness.
Koval struck a conciliatory tone Saturday while addressing the potential for more protests in Madison, saying he understood the community’s distrust after “this tragic death.”
“For those who do want to take to the street and protest,” Koval said, his department would be there to “defend, facilitate, foster those First Amendment rights of assembly and freedom of speech.” The promise echoed as a stark contrast to Ferguson, where an aggressive police response to protesters after Brown’s death drew worldwide attention.
Koval also asked protesters to follow what he said was the lead of Robinson’s family in asking for “nondestructive” demonstrations.
The chief said he had gone to Robinson’s mother’s house overnight and spoken with his grandparents and expressed sympathy to his family Saturday, saying, “19 years old is too young.”
Family members at community meeting later read a statement prepared by Robinson’s mother, Andrea Irwin.
“I can’t even compute what has happened,” Irwin’s statement said. “I haven’t even had a chance to see his body.”