Voices of mayoral candidates were muted at Thursday’s forum by community protesters seeking justice for the death of Tony Robinson.
Before walking to the Barrymore Theatre, where Mayor Paul Soglin and Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, faced off in a mayoral forum, protesters gathered at a gas station on Williamson Street, across from where 19-year-old Robinson was killed in an officer-involved shooting.
Tony Robinson’s death: a portrait of a life ended, a life halted, a community unitedSaturday morning, a team of three Madison police officers stood outside the house at 1125 Williamson Street on the Near Read…
Displaying banners that read, “Black lives matter” and holding posters with Robinson’s picture, dozens of protesters marched down Williamson Street to the Barrymore.
From the beginning, it was clear the protesters were there to make a statement and make it loud. Protesters marched into Barrymore chanting, “What’s his name? Tony Robinson.”
— Hayley Sperling (@hksperl) March 20, 2015
The forum opened with a moment of silence for Robinson.
Questions for the forum came from online sources, as well as audience members. The debate was quick to address the issue on everyone’s mind: officer-involved shootings.
The first question asked what concrete policies have been enacted to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future, mentioning the case of Paul Heenan.
Soglin answered with advice from his own life as an activist.
“When you’re confronted with an officer, you have two options: you either stop or you drop and go limp. But you do not keep moving toward the officer,” Soglin said.
His response was the first of many times throughout the forum in which jeers from the audience interrupted the candidates.
The moderator, Renee Lauber, tried, to no avail, to quiet audience members. Candidates were rarely able to make it through a full statement without reaction from the audience.
The question that silenced the audience came from Sharon Irwin, Robinson’s grandmother. She asked what the candidates planned to do to stop the extreme violence facing the city.
“I cannot think of what you are going through right now … It’s devastating,” Resnick said. “No words that anybody will be able to say up here or in the community will bring closure to this. What I will say is that we will hear a call for action.”
Both Soglin and Resnick said Robinson’s death was tragic and voiced their concern for the community and all affected by the incident.
The candidates continued to clash on issues such as transportation, affordable housing and urban development.
However, the two came together on the matter of “food deserts,” areas in which grocery stores and other food retailers are virtually non-existent.
Soglin said fixing this problem is important for the entire community. He said nutrition and hunger are some of the greatest impediments to children’s learning.
Soglin cited his implementation of a food policy task force, community gardens and programs that provide transportation to food sources for those who need it.
Resnick lauded Soglin’s initiatives and said this was an issue the city will continue to find solutions for.
The candidates also discussed the merits of police body cameras.
Soglin said there are some serious issues with police body cameras, including issues of privacy. He cited various women’s organizations that have voiced concern about the use of body cameras in cases involving domestic abuse.
The city recently approved a study to examine the impact of body cameras on the Madison community.
Resnick said he believes the city should move forward with a pilot study and said he thinks the city is “on the right path” with body cameras.
Candidates did not give closing statements and protesters marched out as loudly as they marched in.
The mayoral election is April 7.