In Living Color: Tony Robinson and Why #BlackLivesMatter Matters

by Ryan Wherley  March 12, 2015

To all those who chime in with “all lives matter” in response to the rallying cry that “Black Lives Matter,” in response to the police officer shooting of Tony Robinson last week, I have to say this in response to you:

Chelsea's sign

Photo by Joe Brusky

No fucking shit.

Of course we know that all lives matter. It’s not like people are saying that ONLY black lives matter. If you feel the need to dismiss #BlackLivesMatter by saying that “all lives matter,” you’re being condescending and the potential clearly exists for ulterior, implicitly racist motives. You’re using racially coded language, perhaps without even being aware that you’re doing it. And by using that language, you’re playing into the hands of those who use dog-whistle rhetoric to advance their racist agenda.

There is only one person involved in this incident who ended up dead: Tony Robinson‬.

And as happens far too often in the U.S, it was an unarmed individual. And as happens far too often in these incidents, it was an unarmed, young black man who paid the ultimate price with his life being ripped from him by bullets fired from a police officer’s gun. And as happens like clockwork, the unarmed, young, deceased black man’s past is being dredged up by the media to engage in character assassination. To make matters worse, his past is being put on trial by public opinion without a defendant present, in spite of it being completely irrelevant to the details of what occurred on the night he was gunned down. 

Photo by Nicole Desautels

Photo by Nicole Desautels

It’s awful to see so much fear, anger and anguish on the faces of teenagers, and to have to comfort inconsolable, sobbing kids who lost their friend when this scenario inevitably hit home. I shouldn’t have to see friends crying over the realization that this could have happened to them.

As my friend Brel said to the Madison Police and Fire Commission yesterday, nineteen seconds was all it took for Officer Kenny to bust in the door, shoot Tony Robinson five times, and then call in to dispatch. And as he powerfully relayed, as a young black man, every time he sees a police car he worries that his nineteen seconds may have arrived.

As appalling and heart-breaking as this horrible incident has been, the fact that I’m not in the least bit shocked that it finally did occur in the supposed bastion of progressivism that is Madison is reason enough to say “Black Lives Matter.” It’s shameful that we live in a society where 52 years after Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech you’d have to be dreaming to think we’re living in an equitable society for all.

By saying, “all lives matter,” as some sort of counter-narrative to “Black Lives Matter,” you’re missing the point and intentionally diverting attention away from the message that we live in a society where persons of color, especially black men and women, have been marginalized and treated disparagingly with overwhelming inequities of existence, especially with regards to our justice system, policing, and police brutality.

You’re forgetting that as recently as 150 years ago Black people were legally considered to be 3/5 of a person. This was a decision made by the Founding Fathers of the United States of America to beef up the political power of plantation owners in the South.

You’re choosing to willfully detract from and diminish the lived experiences and shared stories of persons of color who have grown up with a different view of the surrounding world and how they’ve been treated in Madison and around the nation.

If you’re suggesting that you too care about others who may not share the same demographics with you, you’re picking a messed up way of showing it.

If you’re claiming that, “I don’t see color,” you’re enjoying the comfortable privilege that comes with our being white in America, because we don’t have to live every day wondering if, how and when the color of our skin might be used against us during interactions with peers or authority figures.

Photo by Leslie Amsterdam

Photo by Leslie Amsterdam

On the other hand, I don’t know a single person of color that I’m friends or acquaintances with who would make such a naïve statement as to ignore the realities of race and the existence of institutional racism – especially in a city, county, and state with such glaring statistics that show African-Americans with far higher rates of arrest, incarceration, unemployment and poverty, with lower rates of positve educational outcomes.

I have friends who are police officers and I know they do outstanding work to try to better our community and our society on a daily basis. I’m grateful for their efforts as public servants in giving back and helping to maintain a safe community to live in and to protect citizens’ ability to demonstrate and exercise their First Amendment rights when people express their outrage by takin’ it to the streets.

But I also recognize that they’re operating within a structure where the deck is systemically stacked against persons of color and a structure that appears fixed to control our society in a manner that leads to mass incarceration of black and brown people in what is often dubbed “The New Jim Crow.”

When I say, “Black Lives Matter,” I’m not saying that all lives don’t matter…

I’m saying in Solidarity that black lives matter, too.

It’s depressingly sad that such an obvious statement should need to be made in 2015, but considering our current societal disparities and the powerful systems perpetuating those disparities, it’s absolutely imperative that we say it.

What’s his name? Tony Robinson.

And his life matters.

Rest in Power.

‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬  ‪#‎Justice4Tony‬  ‪#‎FergusonToMadison‬  ‪#‎UNINTIMIDATED‬

Photo by Rebecca Kemble

Photo by Rebecca Kemble

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2 Comments on “In Living Color: Tony Robinson and Why #BlackLivesMatter Matters”

  1. Ann Walls March 15, 2015 at 9:43 am #

    Your very intelligent.Can you see the bigger picture? They are trying to divide are country much like they are doing in the middle east through religion.TOGETHER WE STAND DIVIDED WE FALL.That goes for countries as well. Their using whatever the hot issues are in that country..religion,democracy,race,rich,poor…Whatever they can to divide people…Its a long term plan to go to one monetary system for all and exert more control over everyone….

    • Barbara With March 29, 2015 at 11:29 am #

      Ann while I agree that all lives matter, to stand with our brothers and sister and mothers and father of color do not at all negate anyone else’s lives. Just the opposite.

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