Sharon Irwin says she has heard from many people affected by the death of her grandson, Tony Robinson, including those who never knew him. “There is such an outpouring of love,” she says.
She has also heard from lots of mothers, grateful for what they still have. “They tell me they go into their kids’ bedroom and cry. They watch them and think, ‘that could happen to me.’”
It has been almost four weeks since Robinson, a biracial 19-year-old, was fatally shot in a Williamson Street apartment by Madison police officer Matt Kenny, who is white. The shooting set off weeks of protest and continued calls for reform of police tactics. Now, says Irwin, it is time to celebrate her grandson’s life and help the community heal.
“We need to make changes, but we need to make peace,” she says. “I’m afraid of violence.”
Irwin is hosting a party in honor of her grandson on April 19 at James Madison Park from noon to 7 p.m. “It is a celebration of his life and a healing for the community,” she says. “It’s necessary for us to come together.”
All are welcome, says Irwin. “It’s not a black and white issue,” says Irwin, who is white. “It’s an ‘us’ issue.”
Irwin says she does not want violence when District Attorney Ismael Ozanne announces whether he intends to charge Kenny with any crime related to the shooting of Robinson. But, she adds, “I definitely want changes in the police system.”
She says it should take police officers at least four years to become a member of the department, and they should have to spend their first two years patrolling neighborhoods without a gun. She says that way officers get to know residents.
“They don’t know us, so killing us is easy,” she says.
Nevertheless, says Irwin, police themselves are not her problem. “They are human beings.”
There will be music, food and an open mic at Robinson’s celebration. Irwin says it’s already a community affair — the city has covered the permit fees for the park and extended the hours of the event, and the Wil-Mar Center has volunteered to help set up and tear down. Irwin says she also anticipates that food vendors from Williamson Street will be there.
Among the musicians performing are Dub Foundation and Beris Taki, a reggae musician who is also Robinson’s grandfather. Says Irwin: “We’re going to rock his party.”