So many people packed into a Wisconsin high school yesterday for Tony Robinson‘s funeral that hundreds of people had to watch the services on TV screens in the gym.
It was a fitting tableau, demonstrating how much anger and activism has coursed through the community of Madison after the unarmed 19-year-old Black man was killed on March 6 by Madison police officer Matt Kenny.
The crowd was estimated at over 1,600 people, many of whom had never met the affable teenager who planned to study business at Madison College after taking time off since graduating high school six months early, according to his obituary.
The Madison community has been in an uproar over the past week, trying to figure out why Robinson’s life was taken. Kenny, who reportedly was involved in a 2007 shooting but was cleared of charges after the case was ruled a “suicide by cop,” killed Robinson after a confrontation in an apartment. According to Robinson’s autopsy, released by the Dane County Medical Examiner’s Office on Friday, the young man was shot in the head, torso and upper body.
The case is still under investigation by the state Division of Criminal Investigation, but the circumstances are somewhat murky. Police claim Robinson was darting in and out of traffic and acting erratically. When the officer then followed Robinson into a residence, where a physical confrontation took place. The officer claimed he was attacked by the suspect and then fired in self-defense.
But Robinson wasn’t armed, prompting outrage in the community and a week of peaceful but tense protests and community gathering. Throughout the week, Madison Police Chief Mike Koval has said he understands the community’s pain and encouraged residents to protest peacefully, as did Robinson’s family. Robinson’s father is Black and his mother is white.
Outside his funeral service, his friends told reporters their favorite memories of him.
“I just remember seeing pictures where he was being goofy,” Rochell Floyd, an old family friend, told Channel 3000. “You could just see the kid in him…I think those things need to be shown, that he was a real person, and he had a real soft side.”
Madison native Alec Hill, who never met Tony, said it was “such a tragic event. It’s heartbreaking. We have kids in their early 20s, and in terms of the community and the pain that people are in, we just wanted to be part of it.”
“I have seen Jews, black, brown, white, Asian, Christians, Muslims—I’ve seen it all today,” Courtney Miller, a friend of Tony’s family, told reporters. “What brought me out was that—to see, can this community that I’ve been in so long, can it come together? Can it come together in unity and show what Madison is really about?”
Friends said the outpouring of support and emotion would have made Tony proud.
“He would probably be in awe to realize he’s made such an impact,” Floyd said. “[He’d] know that his name is not going to go down in vain. That this has brought people together—because that’s not usually what death does to this extent. I would like to think he’s standing with pride.”
“I told him that anybody who stands in the way, anybody that stands in the way of true justice, I will make it my personal duty to expose it,” he said.
One of Robinson’s closest friends,Jack Spaulding, said the two of them had been talking about opening a restaurant together.
“When I open up the restaurant, I’m going to name it ‘Tony’s,’” Spaulding said.