MADISON, Wis. — Protesters angry about a prosecutor's decision not to charge a white Madison police officer for killing an unarmed biracial man staged a mock hearing outside of a courthouse Wednesday to get the result they had wanted — a trial — even if it was all symbolic.
After a peaceful procession from the apartment house where Officer Matt Kenny killed 19-year-old Tony Robinson on March 6 through the streets of the state capital to the Dane County Courthouse, some 150 to 200 protesters looked on as others laid out the case for why Kenny should stand trial.
"Was Tony Robinson murdered and should Matt Kenny be charged with homicide?" Alix Shabazz, one of the event's organizers, shouted to her fellow protesters.
The crowd gave its rousing approval.
Madison's mayor, Paul Soglin, had warned that anyone who broke the law would be arrested. And at the end of the event, police arrested some two dozen protesters who locked arms and blocked an intersection near the courthouse. As the police were detaining those protesters, onlookers hurled insults at the officers, including racial epithets.
On Tuesday, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said he wasn't going to charge Kenny because he thought the officer's actions were justified. Kenny shot and killed Robinson in an apartment house stairwell on March 6 after Robinson, who was tripping on mushrooms and who already had attacked several people that night, struck the officer in the head.
The demonstration Wednesday was organized by the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, a group that has organized a series of protests since the March 6 shooting. All of the protests about Robinson's death have been peaceful, unlike some of the demonstrations that followed the high-profile deaths of young black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore in the past year.
Before the march began, Shabazz implored her fellow protesters not to interact with the police.
"They are not your friend," Shabazz told them. "There is nothing positive that is going to come from that (interaction)."
Police cordoned off the streets and rerouted traffic to accommodate the march, as volunteers from several community groups, including 100 Black Men and the Urban League, looked on, ready to advise anyone who appeared ready to break the law to think twice.
Ozanne, who is biracial and identifies as black, is Wisconsin's first minority district attorney. He pointed to his racial heritage as he announced he wasn't going to charge Kenny, saying he views Robinson's death through that lens but based his decision on the facts.
"I am concerned that recent violence around our nation is giving some in our community a justification for fear, hatred and violence," Ozanne said Tuesday. "I am reminded that true and lasting change does not come from violence but from exercising our voices and our votes."
According to witnesses, Robinson was tripping on mushrooms at a friend's apartment on the night he was killed and got violent. He tried to grab one friend's crotch and took a swing at another friend. He later went outside and punched a man on the sidewalk, strangled another man at a gas station across the street, ran in and out of traffic and took a swing at a couple before going back inside.
Kenny responded to 911 calls and found the apartment house door open. He heard what he believed to be a disturbance in the upstairs apartment and thought someone was being attacked, he told investigators.
He drew his firearm and began to climb the stairs. He was near the top when he announced himself as a police officer. Robinson appeared and punched him in the head, he said.
Kenny said he was worried Robinson would knock him down the stairs, take his gun, shoot him and then kill whoever was in the apartment so he opened fire, hitting Robinson seven times. Kenny told the DOJ agent he couldn't use nonlethal force because of "space and time considerations."
Ozanne said toxicology reports confirmed Robinson had taken mushrooms, smoked marijuana and taken Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug.
Kenny, who has been on leave since the shooting, per department policy, has not spoken publicly about the incident, the protests or the calls for him to be charged.
Associated Press writer Kia Farhang contributed to this report.