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Killer Cops in Madison

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Madison, WI

Last Saturday over 1,000 people gathered for the funeral of Tony Robinson on Madison’s East side. Robinson, an unarmed, biracial, teenager was shot and killed on March 6 by Madison police officer Matt Kenny. Officer Kenny shot Robinson in the head and multiple times in the torso after he responded to a call that Robinson was acting “erratically”.

According to friends of Robinson, he was tripping on hallucinogenic drugs the night he was shot. One of the calls to the police came from friends wanting help for Robinson.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world where the police exist to offer help. And officer Kenny is no exception. He responded to a teen in need of help with the cold compassion of multiple gunshots. Moreover, Kenny’s murder of Robinson was not his first.

In 2007 Kenny shot and killed a drunk man holding a pellet gun. His punishment? He earned the Medal of Valor, the department’s highest honor.

Robinson is Madison’s third officer-shooting victim in the last 10 months. Executive director of Wisconsin ACLU, Chris Ahmuty, stated, “Madison has a problem that cannot be ignored. The Madison Police Department needs to take all steps possible to reduce the likelihood of excessive use of force incidents and other types of misconduct, including biased policing.”

Obviously, the murder of our country’s young men of color by police officers is a national problem. But Robinson’s murder occurred in one of the most “progressive” neighborhoods in Madison, the near-Eastside, in one of the most “progressive” cities in the US.

There’s two points to make here.

The first point is that liberalism often contains not so subtle forms of racism. Madison liberal icons like mayor Paul Soglin have proven themselves disinterested in the problems of the city’s African-American community.

Madison, and Wisconsin in general has a well-known racial divide. Three-quarters of African-American children live in poverty in Dane County, while only 5% of white children do. The Madison police play their part as well. The MPD arrested African-Americans compared to white folks at a rate of 11-1 in 2013.  The Dane County jail’s population is 48% Black, yet only 7% of the county’s population is black.

The statistics go on like this…

Mayor Soglin addressed students who walked out of class in protest of Tony Robinson’s murder last week.

Soglin had no problem attempting to turn the protest into a PR event for himself. His speech almost entirely ignored the murder of Tony Robinson, and instead focused on his usual talking points. He babbled on about the importance of public education and the indescribable horror of Scott Walker.

Couldn’t he pick a different event to hijack? This protest was organized by students to express their outrage over a murder. It’s clear bringing killer cops to justice isn’t a priority for the mayor.

The students, feeling the discordance with “their” mayor, interrupted him with chants of “What about Tony??”

It’s not just Soglin. A close friend of mine had a conversation with a nationally known Wisconsin politician. One who is something of a liberal icon across the country. To my friend’s shock, this individual essentially justified Robinson’s murder by saying there was a gang shooting at a local mall, therefore the cops were on edge.

This politician was essentially putting a liberal spin on the idea known within US foreign policy as a “pre-emptive strike”. Embedded in this argument is the same logic George Bush used to invade Iraq. The perceived threat in both instances obviously does not justify the violence.

These liberal politicians have no problem labeling Robinson’s murder a “tragedy”. However, they are unwilling to take any serious steps to prevent the next “tragedy”.

The second point is that the police should be understood as a violent institution. Violence has seeped into every crevice and cranny of it. The American police were created to capture escaped slaves and returning them to their slave owners.

The function of police today isn’t so different. Crimes of poverty such as loitering, loud music, or a broken taillight force people of color down a pipeline of imprisonment and into another form of slavery.

The police reek of the stench of violence. Cops exist so that the powerful can maintain control of society. Violence and the threat of violence are their methods of control.

So far, the police have killed 228 people in 2015. There have been 75 days so far in 2015. That comes out to over 3 people killed everyday this year. Last year the police killed over 1,100 people. Again, that comes out to over 3 people killed everyday by our police officers.

Liberals tend to have some problems with the death penalty. Yet, the most prevalent form of execution in this country is death by cop.

Since 1976 there has been 1,403 people convicted of a crime, sentenced to the death penalty, and then executed. This number is only slightly larger than the number of Americans killed by cops LAST YEAR ALONE.

Imagine if ISIS, or Black gangs were killing at this scale. What would the country’s reaction be?

Now we’re told to wait for the investigation of Robinson’s murder by the Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigation. We’re told there will be justice for Tony. If history is any guide, the murdering officer will walk free, and the blood of black and brown men will continue to spill in the streets.

That is, unless the Black Lives Matter protesters continue to show the country its racist underbelly. That is, unless the protests can force the police to disarm and operate under real accountability. It’s only then that the specter of police violence that haunts the darkened corners of our cities can begin to come to an end.

Paul Gottinger is a journalist based in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, whose work focuses on the Middle East. He can be reached via Twitter @paulgottinger or email: paul.gottinger@gmail.com

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Paul Gottinger is a journalist based in Madison, WI whose work focuses on the Middle East. He can be reached via Twitter @paulgottinger or email: paul.gottinger@gmail.com

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