Family of Tony Robinson: Police should not have fatally shot the teen

Demonstrators raise their fists to protest the shooting of Tony Robinson at the state Capitol Monday on March 9, 2015, in Madison, Wis. (Photo by Michael P. King/Wisconsin State Journal/AP)
Demonstrators raise their fists to protest the shooting of Tony Robinson at the state Capitol Monday on March 9, 2015, in Madison, Wis.

MADISON, Wisconsin — Standing just steps away from where Tony Robinson was fatally shot by a Madison police officer three days earlier, the 19-year-old’s family thanked their supporters and said they still had faith in the investigation into his death.

Appearing stoic and in mourning, Robinson’s family, led by his uncle Turin Carter, held a press conference Monday to say there was no blueprint for them to follow when it comes to coping with the teen’s death.

"We appreciate the police and we understand the necessity for them but once again that does not excuse what happened," Carter said. "It takes one bullet from a trained gunman to end a life -- it takes one bullet.”

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When asked if he were convinced in his heart and mind that Robinson should still be alive, Carter was unequivocal:

“Yes, absolutely, 100%,” Carter said, accompanied by a chorus of audible agreement from the family members standing behind him.

The situation unraveled Friday night after veteran police officer Matt Kenny responded to a call that a young man was dodging through traffic and may have assaulted a person. After hearing of a disturbance, Kenny forced his way through an apartment building here, where he got in an altercation with Robinson. According to police, the officer then pulled out his gun and opened fire.

The shooting tapped into simmering tensions nationwide over law enforcement’s relationship with the communities they are tasked with protecting. The shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Missouri and the deadly chokehold placed on Eric Garner, bolstered by numerous stories of unarmed citizens killed by police, spurred protests and demonstrations nationwide, while shining a spotlight on law enforcement practices in using deadly force.

Carter shared more about the 19-year-old and struggles with his identity stemming from perceived racial ambiguity. Known to the family as “Terrell” — as not to confuse with Tony Robinson Sr. — he at times ran with the wrong crowd while trying to gain acceptance, Carter said. 

“He felt a misfit for most of his life,” Carter said. “Terrell, he was a good, kind-hearted kid and he wanted to be loved.”

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The family sought to dispel false rumors circulating about the 19-year-old, his character and his past. And though he said the family trusts Wisconsin to handle the investigation with integrity, Carter said he was “very upset” over how investigators had treated the family. “A lot of respect needed to be afforded to us,” he said, adding that Robinson’s mother, Andrea Irwin, has not been able to see her son’s body yet.

Still, Carter said the family believed in law enforcement, supported the police officers, and did not want to see violence break out in protest of Robinson’s death. He did encourage supporters to continue their demonstrations, and raise awareness on social media using the hashtag: #TonyRobinson.

“This is a bigger issue than Tony. This highlights a universal issue with law enforcement,” Carter said. “It’s surreal to realize that my nephew is now a hashtag.”

Hundreds of supporters gathered to hear the family speak, temporarily blocking out a bustling stretch of traffic. Earlier in the day, protesters led a march down to the steps of the state capitol, while groups vowed to continue demonstrations.

Madison resident Deila Gallo Monday afternoon took her two young sons to the makeshift memorial built in Robinson’s honor. Lighting candles perched in the patches of unmelted snow and ice left frozen on the sidewalk, Gallo said she saw the shooting as yet another example of a broken system.

“It could have been anyone’s son, or daughter or brother,” Gallo said. “I don’t see police as an enemy … but something serious has got to change.”