Roughly two dozen protesters were arrested Wednesday after refusing to vacate a street near Capitol Square as part of a protest against Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne’s Tuesday decision not to press charges against a Madison police officer who shot and killed a biracial teenager in March.
The march—organized by Madison's Young, Gifted and Black Coalition—began as an estimated 400 protesters descended on the Williamson Street house where MPD Officer Matt Kenny shot and killed 19-year-old Tony Robinson in an effort to draw attention to what they view as systemic police violence.
After walking to the Dane County courthouse, protesters rested at the intersection of West Doty and South Carroll streets for over two hours before law enforcement requested the group vacate the street. While most of the crowd did so, roughly 25 protesters remained in the road and were arrested without incident.
As the arrests were carried out, YGB leader Brandi Grayson decried what she called “an occupying force” and iterated that the arrests were “a waste of taxpayer dollars.”
“Violence started when your comrade shot Tony Robinson. Violence started March 6th,” Grayson shouted at police. “If you want a relationship with us, march with us. You are part of insanity.”
Before the march, members of YGB, which organized the event in solidarity with similar movements nationwide, spoke as the crowd swelled to around 500 people.
The group wound its way through the east side of Madison, halting traffic on Williamson Street and John Nolen Drive, one of the main thoroughfares entering the city. Chants of “no justice, no peace” and pleas for justice for Robinson rang out as the protesters moved underneath Monona Terrace toward their final destination.
Upon arriving at the courthouse, YGB leaders Grayson and M Adams led a “people’s court” in protest of Ozanne’s decision. Grayson said before the march Ozanne, who is biracial, had political motivations in not charging Kenny.
The remaining protesters served as jurors to determine whether they felt Kenny should be charged. As the “hearing” built to a crescendo, the crowd roared in approval when asked if Kenny deserved to be charged. Adams declared it was “clear” the community wanted justice for Robinson and local police “should work for the people.”
Soon, the group turned their attention to the Dane County jail. Speakers admonished a proposal to expand the jail and the group demanded the release of over 300 African-Americans allegedly incarcerated for crimes of poverty.
Several protesters chained themselves to an entrance to the jail in an act of civil disobedience and proclaimed they would not move for roughly four hours.
Protester Sasha W., one of the six protesters who blocked entrance to the jail, said the decision not to indict Kenny was “an example of state violence.”
“This is what state violence looks like,” she said. “The violence that black people are subjected to in this city is extreme. There are 350 black people who have been incarcerated for crimes of poverty in this city and there are massive disparities. There is no reason to incarcerate people for poverty when people like Matt Kenny are not arrested.”
"If not Matt Kenny, no arrests" duct tape binds say pic.twitter.com/YKBG0HdlRA— Andrew Hahn (@ndrewhahn) May 13, 2015
While speakers were critical of the city and state, there were notes of optimism among group members. A local high school student opened the march with a rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” and other youth addressed the assembled crowd.
“Seeing so many people here gives me hope that there can be change,” said JT Ruffin, a Sun Prairie High School student and friend of Robinson. “People aren’t going to loot or riot. Madison can be the start of change for this movement.”
"Remember why you are here today" pic.twitter.com/zaRzfZDHlf— Andrew Bahl (@AndrewBahl) May 13, 2015