Two months ago, Tony Robinson Jr.’s uncle, Turin Carter, tried to separate his nephew’s death from the Black Lives Matter movement.
At a press conference, Carter discussed Tony (aka Tyrell’s) identity issues spurred by his mixed race background, using that as a catalyst to argue, “We don’t want to just stop at Black Lives Matter. … Tyrell is a mixture of everything. You can’t look at him and say he’s Black.” I wrote against the notion based on Tyrell’s own aesthetic, and so did the Wisconsin police officers, who had this description for Tyrell: “Look for a male, Black, light-skinned, tan jacket and jeans. Outside yelling and jumping in front of cars.”
Now, we have even more evidence that suggests no matter how Tyrell and some of the people in his life viewed him, how the rest of the world saw him directly relates to his death. And the lack of justice that will be obtained in its aftermath.
Matt Kenny, who shot and killed Tyrell, will face no rightful repercussions for stealing Tyrell’s life. In a Tuesday press conference, District Attorney Ismael Ozanne announced that Kenny used lawful deadly force, and thus will not face any charges.
While making his announcement, Ozanne said, “My decision will not bring Tony Robinson Jr. back. My decision will not end the racial disparities that exist in the justice system, in our justice system. My decision is not based on emotion. Rather, this decision is based on the facts as they have been investigated and reported to me.”
As an attorney, Ozanne knows better than most that “facts” can be trickier than he lets on. Look no further than this framing; his decision is based on the “facts as they have been investigated and reported to me.”
In response to the decision, Tyrell’s grandmother Sharon Irwin said, “This is politics, and not justice.” His mother, Andrea Irwin, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “I’m heartbroken and I’m angry. I’m more than upset, almost something that I can’t even describe right now.”
Andrea Irwin says she will file a civil suit against the police department and objected to the handling of the investigation. Both Sharon and Andrea Irwin say that Tyrell was “slandered” in the public. Tyrell’s mother may be White, but she sounds like every other Black mother of an unarmed Black man shot down by a police officer.
Andrea even has to bear the responsibility of advocating for peace among protesters while she continues to grieve. Yet, as she noted in her interview, “The only people who have been violent are the police.”
But this is ultimately how White supremacy and systemic racism work. Tyrell’s mother is White, but he was perceived by law enforcement as a Black man. In being perceived as a Black man, he faced far greater chances of being killed by a police officer than anyone who looks like his other half. According to a ProPublica analysis of federally collected data on fatal police shootings, young Black males were 21 times more likely to be shot dead by a police officer than their White counterparts. Their killers often go without punishment.
This is why slight shifts in the story don’t counter the lingering painful narrative of how the justice system works against Black people in this country. You can have the first Black district attorney in Wisconsin history stand before the media and say the death of an unarmed Black youth will go unpunished.
In a statement, Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, said the decision “leaves a cloud of uncertainty” over just who bears responsibility for Tyrell’s death. He added, “If Officer Kenny did not violate the law, then is anyone legally responsible for Mr. Robinson’s death? Does the criminal law protect individuals like Mr. Robinson from deadly force exercised by police officers? Are police officers above the law?”
If you are perceived as Black, you remain unprotected. Plenty of police officers act above the law and manage to get it away with such notions most when it involves the death of someone of color. This is why Turin Carter was wrong. No matter what struggles Tony Robinson Jr. may have had forging his identity, he was perceived one way.
One that paved the way to his death.
This why the Black Lives Matter movement is inclusive, and most of all, so very important.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty