A few dozen students gathered for a candlelight vigil in honor of Tony Robinson on Tuesday night at the Pres House, a campus ministry building. The students gathered to pray and reflect on the day in which Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne announced that no criminal charges would be brought against Madison police officer Matthew Kenny in the shooting death of Robinson earlier this year.
Rev. Everett Mitchell, a pastor at Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church who has been present at many community events regarding Robinson’s death, offered the opening prayer. He reflected on a moment he found particularly moving during an afternoon protest march from the site of Robinson’s shooting to the Capitol.
“There was a moment when the skies were all dark, it was cold, it was windy, and right when we got in front of the courthouse, and we began to pray, the sun peaked out and shined,” he said. “As much as we have experienced hopelessness, our prayers our not prayers of powerlessness. They’re meant to be words of hope.”
Representatives from several other faith communities were also on hand to help students process complicated emotions that have been swirling for months in the wake of Robinson’s death.
“(The vigil) was important for a lot of reasons, but the most basic reason is that Tony Robinson is a person, he’s a human, a young man and his life deserves to be remembered,” said Christiane Buethe, a student at UW-Madison who attended the event.
Students held hands, embraced and shed a few tears as the vigil progressed. A few songs were sung, and attendees were encouraged to share their thoughts on post-it notes and sheets of paper taped to the walls of the room.
“God, we cry out in our pain, in our broken systems, in the midst of suffering … for your justice, your mercy, your grace and your love,” one student wrote.
“In this time of tragedy I pray for both the Robinson family as well as Officer Kenny and his family that we may all have peace and learn from this event,” wrote another.
As she exited the Pres House, Buethe said attending to the event was the “right thing” to do, but she wasn’t optimistic it would change anything.
“I don’t think it heals the problem,” she said.
“It’s a human life that was taken too soon,” agreed Anne Vandenburg, another student. “Obviously there’s a systemic problem and tonight, it was nice, but it doesn’t fix anything.”
Rev. Erica Liu, campus co-pastor at the Pres House, said the campus religious community will continue to offer support to students processing thoughts and feelings regarding Robinson’s death, the community’s reaction and greater, systemic issues.
“The vigil is a way to say that we are a part of this, this is our community and we care and are going to be a part of the healing and justice seeking and peace keeping,” she said.
She said she has been encouraging students, especially white students, to listen to what she called “voices of the stranger,” which she defined as “voices they don’t normally hear, especially because their networks tend to be people like them.”
“We’re pushing our students to stay engaged in this, just because it doesn’t affect your life directly, you can’t disengage,” Liu said. “We’re committed to being a part of this for the long haul.”