MADISON, Wis. — Friends and family remembered a 19-year-old biracial Wisconsin man fatally shot by police as a friendly, funny person who liked to play basketball, and said on Saturday they hoped his death would bring change that might prevent other young men of color from suffering the same fate.
Tony Robinson, also known as Terrell, died March 6 after what Madison police said was a confrontation in which he assaulted the officer. A preliminary autopsy showed Robinson was shot in his head, torso and right arm. The autopsy did not say if he was facing or turned away from the white policeman, who was identified as 45-year-old force veteran Matt Kenny.
Robinson's death was the latest in a string of shootings by police nationwide that heightened racial tensions. Protests in Ferguson, Missouri, turned violent after an unarmed black 18-year-old was fatally shot there last August. This week, two policemen were injured from gunfire during one of the demonstrations that have continued for months in front of the Ferguson Police Department.
At least 1,000 people packed a Wisconsin high school field house and spilled into a secondary gym on Saturday for Robinson's funeral, where family requested no outward signs of protest. A few mourners wore t-shirts saying "Black Lives Matter," the motto of a protest movement which grew after the Ferguson killing. People who brought signs to the funeral were politely told to put them away.
"It's up to us to support Terrell's vision of immortality ... through our commitment to ensure that another senseless and violent murder like this doesn't happen," said Rev. David Hart, who led the memorial.
Mourners broke into applause several times and stood and raised their fists after Robinson's grandmother spoke. But otherwise, the occasion was mostly somber, with ushers handing out tissues to the tearful crowd.
Robinson's aunt, Lorien Carter, read a poem she wrote for the service. "He is our own martyr, who dwells forever in our lives."
Johanna Valdez, who attended the funeral, said she used to play one-on-one basketball with Robinson after school and remembered him as goofy and fun.
"He was always listening if you needed someone to talk to," said Valdez, who went to Sun Prairie High School where Robinson graduated.
While protests since the shooting in Madison have been peaceful, they have highlighted local concerns. Only about 7 percent of the 240,000 population are black and demonstrators have complained about unequal policing of poor, black neighborhoods.
Police said they responded to a call last Friday night that Robinson was running in traffic on the street and had assaulted someone. According to police, Kenny heard a disturbance inside an apartment and pushed open the door, where he encountered the unarmed Robinson.
Madison police tried initially to strike a more conciliatory tone than their counterparts in Ferguson had done. Police Chief Mike Koval rushed to the home of Robinson's family on the night of the killing and prayed with his grandmother in the driveway. He said he understood the community's anger and emphasized the right of protesters to march peacefully.
But some people at the funeral said they thought the shooting was an overreaction by police.
"What I personally don't understand is why they have to resort to shooting first," Valdez said.