MADISON, Wis. (AP) _ Numerous public meetings have been held. Tasks forces have investigated, protests have been held and a lawsuit filed. Yet the efforts have brought little change in Madison since the fatal police shooting of a biracial man one year ago Saturday, according to some residents and activists.
Community members have planned a series of events this weekend to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of 19-year-old Tony Robinson, who was unarmed when fatally shot by a white police officer on March 6, 2015. They say they hope the events draw attention to the lack of tangible change in the city’s policing.
“From my perspective, nothing has changed,” said Brandi Grayson, organizer of the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, which led protests last year. “Our black and brown community continues to be impacted negatively due to over-policing of the neighborhoods, the criminalization of our youth.”
Some community leaders are optimistic, saying recent task force recommendations will enhance trust with communities of color and acknowledging that change takes time. NAACP of Dane County President Greg Jones has said the use of a task force built a bridge between law enforcement and the communities, with both participating in the conversations.
Police also say officers have redoubled their outreach efforts over the last year. Madison Police Chief Mike Koval has encouraged officers to park and get out of their vehicles while on patrol and interact with people in neighborhoods if they’re not responding to calls.
“I want people to know that we’re not going to go into a shell and be hermits,” Koval said. “We’re not going to remain tethered to a narrative that is defined by an 18-second event that occurred on March 6.”
Madison police officer Matt Kenny, who is white, shot Robinson in the stairwell of an apartment house after responding to calls about Robinson behaving erratically. Kenny said he entered the house to investigate sounds of a disturbance, and Robinson started punching him. An autopsy showed Robinson had traces of drugs in his system, including hallucinogenic mushrooms. Kenny was later cleared of criminal wrongdoing, and an internal investigation found he didn’t violate any police policies.
The shooting sparked protests throughout the city, a federal civil rights lawsuit from Robinson’s family, calls for examination of police use of force and renewed efforts by police to educate and engage the community. The shooting also came amid a time of heightened scrutiny of shootings by police nationwide, particularly those involving unarmed young black men.
The conversations are continuing in Madison. About 100 people gathered Friday afternoon at the University of Wisconsin-Madison amid frigid weather to march toward the state Capitol, chanting Robinson’s name and carrying a banner demanding justice. A community dinner will be held Saturday, and another march is scheduled for Sunday on Williamson Street _ where Robinson was shot.
Over the past year, multiple efforts have launched to examine the police department’s policies and procedures.
A United Way of Dane County task force that formed months before Robinson’s death _ in the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri _ published a report last month with 60 recommendations. Koval said Madison police already practice many of the recommendations, such as implicit bias training. He said wants to look at others more closely.
A city committee is conducting an analysis of the police department’s policies, with plans to have a report finished by October.
Grayson said it’s not enough.
“They’re basically sitting at the table together and singing Kumbaya while our communities are still torn and broken,” she said.
Robinson’s mother, Andrea Irwin, said the family’s lawsuit is still in the discovery stage, so it will likely be months before anything changes. She said she lost her job in August but is starting a nonprofit to help victims of state violence. She also said the time hasn’t helped her heal.
“In the beginning, you’re numb, you’re shocked, you don’t really realize it. But as time goes by and things sink in it tends to hurt a lot more,” said Andrea Irwin. “I can’t believe it’s been a year.”
Irwin said she hopes people will take time this weekend to reflect on what happened and do something positive for themselves and for someone else.
“My son was a giving person,” Irwin said. “For me, that’s honoring my son.”
Follow Bryna Godar on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bgodar