Michael T. Sullivan
I have held off on writing about the tragic death of Tony Robinson. In part, it's because I learned from my eight years as mayor that initial information coming out of a police investigation is often flawed, and there is always information public officials can't report because an investigation is ongoing. In short, I knew there was a lot I didn't know. I didn't want to rush to judgment.
But another reason for not writing about it is that I didn't know if I had anything to offer that was different from what was already being said. I'm still not sure. But now, a couple of weeks after the incident, there seems to be a growing community consensus that what needs to happen is to gain an understanding of what put Tony Robinson and officer Matt Kenny in that situation on that evening and, in doing so, to address the related broader issues in our community.
Three men I have a great deal of respect for -- Michael Johnson, Kaleem Kaire and Alex Gee -- have offered some great insight and leadership, as they have for the better part of a decade or more. Their perspective is to balance a message of shared responsibility for the upbringing of young people with a determination to eliminate the institutionalized and engrained forms of bias that still nag at our community 50 years almost to the day after President Lyndon Johnson's famous speech put the federal government squarely behind civil rights.
And, just before the incident, County Executive Joe Parisi offered one of the most thoughtful and comprehensive approaches to poverty that we have seen in the last several years. His proposals might serve as a good template for an ongoing community discussion.
I have written with some frequency about the unnecessarily high incarceration rate for African American men in Wisconsin. We lead the nation in that category and not by a little bit.
Attorney General Brad Schimel is now in charge of the investigation into what happened on Willy Street thanks to a positive new state law that puts this in the hands of someone more removed from the local police department. But when the investigation is completed in a few weeks, no matter the findings, Schimel should take a hard look at the bigger picture. He should conclude that the black male incarceration rate is perhaps the biggest justice issue facing the state right now. He should launch a blue ribbon panel -- that might include people like Johnson, Caire and Gee -- to study the problem and come up with a comprehensive set of solutions, some of which might include Parisi's ideas.
This is all a tremendous tragedy. The best communities take their failings, admit them, look them in the eye and resolve to do better. Madison, Dane County, and even Wisconsin right now, can be that kind of place.