Tony Terrell Robinson should have turned 20 today. Tony Robinson should be growing into manhood this week. Tony should be at college this week. Tony should be surrounded by friends and family as he celebrates his birthday this week. Tony should not have a mural of him and his name should not be on shirts. Tony’s name shouldn’t follow “Justice for.” Tony’s name should not be a hashtag. Tony’s mother should be celebrating this week and not mourning the death of her sun (sun because his memory shines like one).
I faced troubling times in my own past. I have committed crimes, was almost expelled from school, and did drugs. But my white passing privilege gave me a second chance. I fought through many of the life questions that Tony was struggling to find answers to. I turned to psychedelics once upon a time to find these answers, and instead of death I found life. Am I a “thug”? Am I a criminal that deserved death? I think not. Like everybody at that young age, I made mistakes, I learned, I grew. Tony was not given a chance to grow, to learn, to become someone that wasn’t scared of those existential questions, but embraced them. Tony was not given a chance to find his way through life.
Justice was not done; another black American lost his life because of the cowardice of our city and our nation. The United States refuses to face its white supremacy reality. It cannot face the fact that many Americans see black names and faces as aggressive and violent. Our city cannot face the fact that we are arresting black people at a rate close to 11 to 1 versus our white population. It can only point fingers in a nebulous direction. Tony’s death was looked upon as “unfortunate” instead of something tragic that could have been avoided if we would have learned the lessons from the murder of Paulie Heenan by Madison Police Officer Heimsness. We didn’t see the warning signs in our tremendous arrest and prison disparities, which showed we were primed for the killing of a black citizen by the hands of our police force.
We, the Young Gifted and Black Coalition, testified as much. We see that our police chief believes that this city’s implicit bias training is working even though we’re seeing some of the largest arrest ratios in the nation and even though Tony is dead. Tony is dead even though we have trained police officers to deal with mental health crisis but those officers weren’t dispatched after a 9-11 call went in saying Tony needs help. Instead, what we saw, with deadly consequences, was a police officer escalating the situation, not assisting a known mental wellness crisis, not waiting for backup, and taking a life.
I shouldn’t have written this and you shouldn’t be reading this. Unremarkably, a black American – Tony – was killed by our police force. Unremarkably, because it happens far too often: police have killed 273 Black people within a year of Michael Brown’s death.
It’s unremarkable because this is our history, one that we lack the courage to face as a nation and as a city. But we will make Tony Robinson remarkable. We will make Michael Brown remarkable. We will make Sandra Bland remarkable. We will make Tamir Rice remarkable. We will make Aiyana Jones remarkable.
Remember their names.
As Tu-Pac said, you “can’t explain a mother’s pain, when her son drops.” Today — on Tony’s birthday — we will hold a vigil in solidarity with Tony’s family and his mother Andrea at 6:30 p.m. at the State Street entrance to Capitol Square. Come show support and love as we make this city remember his name.
What’s his name? Tony Robinson