Protesters locked arms in small groups, blocking traffic.
A daylong demonstration in response to Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne’s decision not to charge Madison Police Officer Matt Kenny in the shooting death of Tony Robinson ended after the arrest of 28 protesters Wednesday afternoon.
Police surrounded a group of activists occupying the street near the intersection of Doty and Hamilton Streets at about 3 p.m., saying that the demonstration was an “unlawful assembly.”
Members of the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, who organized the demonstration, instructed protesters to move to the sidewalks to avoid arrest if they wished. Dozens left, but small groups of people remained in the streets with arms linked, anticipating arrest.
Madison Police Department spokesman Joel DeSpain says those arrested were cited for obstructing a roadway, which is a city ordinance violation. Most of the protesters cited were released. One person was taken to jail for a parole hold.
All of the arrests were peaceful, DeSpain says, but one protester “took off running” with a rock in hand and was arrested on the Capitol grounds for disorderly conduct.
“For the most part people were peaceful,” DeSpain says of this week’s demonstrations, which brought no significant injuries or property damage. “I would applaud those who came out and exercised their First Amendment rights.”
Those arrested were taken to the Goodman Pool for processing – a decision DeSpain said was made in advance of demonstrations since law enforcement officials were unsure how large the protests would be and whether or not City Hall would be accessible.
Protest leaders were satisfied with Wednesday’s action.
“I’m never pleased when people are arrested, but people are safe,” says demonstration organizer Alix Shabazz, a member of the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition. “This has been a successful action.”
The group organized the action, which they called Black-Out Wednesday, as part of an emerging national movement known as Black Spring – a black liberation movement to address what organizers call “state violence,” or the systematic oppression of African Americans through disparities in arrest, incarceration, income and education.
Protesters began the day at 9 a.m. near the intersection of Williamson and Ingersoll Streets where they shared songs and poetry and made posters in preparation for a march to the Dane County Courthouse. There, they held a “people’s court” to debate questions and concerns the community had regarding the March 6 shooting and the DA’s decision. The court ruled that Kenny should be charged with homicide.
At the peak of the demonstration, the group numbered 300 people.
As the arrests occurred, coalition co-founder Brandi Grayson rallied the crowd with a fiery speech condemning police officers for their role in “state violence” and calling for people of all races to unite to end racism.
Nearby, protesters chained themselves together in front of the door to the Dane County Public Safety Building, declaring: “If Matt Kenny doesn’t have to go to jail, no one does.”
Cortney Campbell, of Madison, brought her three young children – ages 6, 9 and 10 – to witness Wednesday’s demonstration. The family linked arms on the sidewalk as dozens of police officers closed in on the lines of protesters who peacefully accepted arrest.
“I wanted to show [my children] that making a difference is important,” Campbell says.