After a Madison, Wis., police shooting left another unarmed black man dead Friday evening, locals who protested his death this past weekend brought out signs and banners bearing the message “Black Lives Matter.”
To anyone who thought the protest movement would end as the spotlight on Ferguson, Mo., and the death of Michael Brown recedes, this latest incident proves that the issue of police use of force is still very much in the public consciousness.
According to local police, officer Matt Kenny initially responded to calls of a man who was jumping into traffic and had just assaulted someone. Kenny pursued 19-year-old Tony T. Robinson into an apartment building. Kenny got into an altercation with Robinson and fatally shot the teen when he assaulted Kenny.
It’s unclear how often American law enforcement shoots and kills a civilian. The federal government lacks reliable national data on deaths that occur in police custody; most states only choose to report that information voluntarily, and when they do, the numbers are collected from various sources.
Police critics say that unarmed civilians, especially young men of color, dying at the hands of police is a pervasive problem, so common that they can barely keep track. While available statistics won’t tell us how big the problem is, public awareness and media coverage of such deaths has certainly increased since protesters in Ferguson brought the death of Michael Brown international attention.
The Department of Justice’s recently released an investigative report on the Ferguson Police Department confirming the protesters’ cause for wrath: The police department and local court overwhelmingly stop, arrest, and fine the city’s black residents for minor traffic violations, and are more concerned about generating revenue for the city than respecting rule of law.
Since the events in Ferguson, police shootings of unarmed civilians in Cleveland; Pasco, Wash.; and Los Angeles have drawn local and national scrutiny. The public wants to know the circumstances of each shooting so they can evaluate whether the officers’ use of force was justified.
On Monday, more than a thousand people, many of them high school and university students who walked out of classes, staged a demonstration at the Wisconsin Capitol building, mourning Robinson’s death. They again chanted “hands up, don’t shoot,” the cry for justice first adopted by Ferguson protesters.
People have already begun drawing comparisons between the two cases. Whether the reactions to Robinson’s death will be as explosive as those of Ferguson residents remains to be seen in the days to come.
So far, the responses of the two cities’ police departments have already diverged. Whereas the Ferguson police department waited almost a week before releasing the involved officer’s name, Madison police chief Mike Koval named officer Kenny hours after Robinson’s death.
Compared with Ferguson officials’ silence in the aftermath of Brown’s death, Koval expressed his understanding for the community’s concerns in a blogpost published on the police department’s website Monday: “I realize that in order for us to achieve greater strides in community-based policing, the cornerstone for making that a reality starts with us earning your trust,” Koval wrote.
“Remember, we live here, we work here, we go to church here, we’re your neighbor(s), our kids go to school with your kids, and we all want the best of what life has to offer our families. The police are the public and the public are the police.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.