Ismael Ozanne's decision does not address the broader issue of African-American males and the high incarceration rate in Wisconsin.
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne made a reasonable finding that Madison Police Officer Matt Kenny should not be charged in the shooting of Tony Robinson. But it doesn’t say anything at all about the broader issue of African-American males and the criminal justice system.
The truth is that the Madison police department is one of the best in the country and it has been for some time. The issues that plague departments in places like Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore are not much present here. And there was no indication that Officer Kenny was a bad actor in an otherwise good department. He seems typical of the high quality officers Madison selects and trains.
But when we find that Wisconsin leads the nation in incarceration of African-American males that’s a reality too, and we have to deal with it. And across the country when officer-involved shootings or charges of mistreatment involving black men seem to occur on a regular basis we can’t conclude that every situation is like that faced by Officer Kenny, or that every department has the culture that ours has, or that every prosecutor is as thorough as Ozanne. Sadly, Madison might be more the exception than the rule.
So, while it appears that Ozanne came to the right conclusion based on the facts and the law, the criminal legal process is not the place to sort out complex, sometimes conflicting and confusing issues of race. The world outside of the court system is far more messy. The place to work that out is in neighborhoods, on the city council and county board, in the mayor’s office, and in churches and rec centers. In short, the place to find a greater sense of justice is in the community itself.
Officer Matt Kenny appears to have used force appropriately under the circumstances. But in the largest sense, the overwhelming use of economic, social and other force by the dominant white America over the minority black and brown America is far from resolved. It’s difficult not to conclude intellectually that Ozanne did the just thing in not charging Matt Kenny. When we actually feel that we live in a just society we’ll know we finally got it right.