Aja Brown, mayor of Compton, California, urged people “not to turn a blind eye to the political process,” addressing Wisconsin’s Martin Luther King, Jr. tribute ceremony on Monday.
Speaking to a crowd gathered in the state Capitol rotunda, Brown encouraged people to vote in elections at every level and to involve themselves in representative government beyond the polling booth.
“It’s time that everyday people mobilize their power,” Brown said, standing in front of a handful of elected officials including Gov. Scott Walker and Madison Mayor Paul Soglin.
Earlier in the ceremony, as a chorus sang “We Shall Overcome,” friends and family of Tony Robinson stood on a balcony above the ceremony, fists raised, holding a banner that read “Justice for Tony.”
Robinson, an unarmed, black 19-year-old, was fatally shot by a Madison police officer in March 2015. The shooting, and the Dane County district attorney’s decision not to file charges against Officer Matt Kenny, fueled unrest throughout the city among community members already frustrated by racial disparities in Madison and throughout the country.
— Matthew DeFour (@WSJMattD4) January 18, 2016
“Although it is very personal to us, it’s also, on a national scale and international scale, things like this are happening across the world,” said Lorien Carter, Robinson’s aunt. “It’s a reminder, especially on this particular day — years ago we were fighting for the injustices that were occurring and for our rights, and it still feels today that a lot of that is still very relevant, unfortunately.”
Carter said she wanted people to go home and talk at their kitchen tables about the fact that racial injustices are still occurring in 2015 and 2016 — to keep it in their hearts and minds.
Protesting can be effective, Carter said, but it can only go so far without action behind it. Robinson’s grandmother, Sharon Irwin, likened the fight for racial equality to tearing down the Berlin Wall — the result comes not from one action, but from the actions of many.
“Ultimately, it is us that are deciding our own fate,” she said. “Get out there and put your voice out there. Go to these town hall meetings, go and see what your elected officials are talking about. See if they truly represent you. Because they can make change, as long as we’re demanding it.”