Late Saturday night, Mayor Rhodes-Conway issued an emergency proclamation, six hours after an evening of violence, looting, and conflict between agitators and police officers had begun downtown.
The emergency proclamation enabled the mayor to issue citywide curfews. And while the city has been under a curfew for the past four nights, that did not quell violence and property damage for most downtown businesses on Sunday and Monday.
Last night, protesters headed out past the 9:30 curfew, and marched around the Capitol in the rain. It was the first night in four days that violence did not break out downtown.
While protesters marched, city council members were meeting. And they were faced with a decision: uphold, modify, or repeal the mayor’s state of emergency and subsequent order that implemented the curfew.
After over two hours of deliberation, council members failed to ratify the Mayor’s state of emergency. The council tied, with nine alders for the measure, nine against, and one alder abstaining.
Mayor Rhodes-Conway has the authority to issue another order in the future. If she did so, that order would also go before the council for a vote at its next meeting two weeks from now, effectively repeating the process. Alders could also choose to call an emergency meeting and consider the issue before then.
Rhodes-Conway took pains over the weekend to distinguish that the state of emergency was a response to widespread looting and destruction of local businesses, and not in response to peaceful protests.
“I want to make sure that everyone in our community understands that this was not a case of a protest turning violent, this was a case of a protest successfully concluding peacefully, and then a relatively small group of people coming in to cause violence and property damage,” she said.
Curfews have been widely used by cities in recent days as protests, prompted by the killing of George Floyd and systemic brutality against black lives, break out across the country. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett issued three consecutive curfews over the weekend, but stopped short of issuing one last night.
At last night’s virtual council meeting, several community members argued the curfew and emergency order upheld police brutality and governmental control.
But, in an emotional testimony, Alder Mike Verveer, who represents State Street, spoke in favor of the curfew and emergency order, saying that members who opposed the curfew were neglecting the safety and security of downtown residents.
“I am scared to death that this living nightmare will get worse if there are arsons,” he said. “How about all the people that live above these storefronts? Their lives are in jeopardy. I’ve represented this place for 25 years, and it has been destroyed in the course of days. I broke down crying day after day and I just can’t take this anymore.”
Testifying before the council, interim Madison Police Chief Victor Wahl said that the emergency order, and the 9:30 PM curfew, is essential for maintaining control over the protests. He says the curfew allows police to detain individuals without establishing probable cause, and can give police time to build a case against arrestees.
“It’s hard to convey how chaotic these nights have been. There can be individuals out engaging in illegal behavior, but at the time we see them, we may not be able to have all of those facts, to be able to create those charges of probable cause at that instant,” he said. “The curfew allows us to remove them from the problem and reduce chances for them to be involved in criminal behavior.”
Chief Wahl says some demonstrators will break curfew to test whether or not police will actively enforce it.
The council concluded its meeting by formally condemning the murders of black men and women across the country without consequence.