Milwaukee Press Club Awards

This and another article I contributed for this issue were part of a package awarded 2015 Best Multi-Story Coverage of a Single Feature Topic or Event, Silver, by the Milwaukee Press Club. I’m honored to be recognized alongside Neil Heinen, Brennan Nardi, Pat Dillon, The Poet Fabu, and Robert L. Kehoee III.

Read What's His Name? in Madison Magazine

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Madison Mothers React to the Tony Robinson Shooting

What’s His Name?

Madison Magazine cover story, May 2015

When a veteran Madison Police Department officer shot and killed 19-year-old Tony Robinson, the story gripped the entire city. Some immediately railed against yet another unarmed Black man gunned down by police. Others argued this had been a fatally poor response to a mental health crisis, and still others insisted race and mental health had nothing to do with it, rallying to support law enforcement. Every media outlet far and wide weighed in. Everybody had something to say.

When my then-editor at Madison Magazine asked if I’d contribute to a special issue devoted to Tony, I hesitated. Madison has a long history of white media telling Black stories. Madison365 did not yet exist. We’d just wrapped the April issue, which featured a Q&A I did with Young Gifted and Black leader Brandi Grayson, and I was more keenly aware than ever that when stories involving race cycle through the news, nearly everyone reporting on them looks like me, not Tony. I didn’t know what I could possibly add to the conversation.

But I’m also a mother, and Madison is a small town. I was lying in bed at 1am on March 4, 2015, the night Tony died. I’d been asleep for several hours, but the dog woke me up and so I’d been scrolling through Facebook on my phone hoping to fall back to sleep—when there it was, suddenly, everywhere. ALL CAPS panic, fear, outrage. Real people’s reactions in real time. Parents checking in on their kids, their kids’ friends. I was instantly sick. I did that thing I’ve done countless times over the years: a quick mental check of where my kids where. I thought of mothers across town doing exactly that same thing.

That’s what I kept coming back to over the next several weeks as we talked about how to put the Tony Robinson package together, and so that’s what we decided to do: gather those mothers, hear them out, then get out of the way of their voices.

What’s His Name? was the chant protesters and vigil holders used over and over in those days after the shooting. This article features the voices of mothers of Black sons and how they processed what happened. Their words say more than mine ever could (or should).

—Maggie Ginsberg is an award-winning freelance writer in Madison, Wisconsin

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