Protests over the murder of George Floyd and police brutality against black lives continued Monday.
A demonstration organized by Freedom, Inc gathered at noon on Monday outside of the Dane County Jail. After a press conference, the action proceeded up to the intersection of John Nolen and North Shore Drive, where the procession came to a halt, blocking the intersection for hours.
White protestors linked arms, protecting with their bodies the primarily people of color inside.
At times, protesters danced and sang. At other times, they chanted the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other unarmed, black men and women recently killed by police officers in a long history of police brutality against black lives.
Demonstrators also chanted the name of Tony Robinson, an unarmed black teenager in Madison killed by police officer Matt Kenny over five years ago. Protesters called for the immediate arrest and prosecution of Kenny, who still works for the Madison Police Department and has never faced criminal charges for Robinson’s killing.
Protesters began to march back downtown Monday evening around 8pm.
Speaking before the assembled crowd outside of the County Jail earlier in the day, organizers underlined the importance of continuing protest.
Mahnker Dahnweih, an organizer with Freedom, Inc., addressed criticisms of protesters by those who considered the weekend’s events too violent.
“Five years ago we protested for Tony Robinson. These same acts were not considered peaceful. We marched, we chanted and we stood on the Capitol steps. We chained ourselves to the doors of the jail,” Dahnweih says.
“We were called thugs and violent antagonizers. Now, the anti-black media, elected officials, and community leaders are using the events of last night to divide our community. This is indicative of the insidious nature of white supremacy. Changing the narrative as a matter of convenience to separate, divide and conquer, while avoiding accountability for the violence bestowed upon black bodies at the hands of the state.”
Freedom, Inc. issued a similar statement Sunday evening.
Please read this statement from Freedom, Inc., Urban Triage Inc., and the Party for Socialism and Liberation about yesterday’s protest and uprising. pic.twitter.com/8dwchJ7Xlg
— Freedom, Inc. (@AboutFreedomInc) June 1, 2020
Brandi Grayson, founder and CEO of Urban Triage, says the focus on the weekend’s violence is one-sided and villainizes black protesters.
“Our definition of violence is only shaped by what black people do. When we kneeled, it was considered violence. When we marched and blocked all these straights, you all called me an antagonizer. And that’s what we’re doing right now today, making the broken glass a problem. More people showed up and donated to clean up the businesses who had insurance than donated to the cause.”
At Monday’s protest, organizers also called for the defunding of the city’s police department, as well as a complete removal of police presence from local schools and more civilian oversight of law enforcement.
On Saturday, more than a thousand demonstrators turned out for a peaceful protest calling for justice in the police killing of George Floyd, which was organized by local groups Freedom Inc, Urban Triage, and the Madison Chapter Party for Socialism and Liberation. Over 5,500 on Facebook said they were attending the event.
Demonstrators held signs that said “Black Lives Matter” and “Say Their Names” — referring to the recent police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Sean Reed. They also remembered Tony Robinson.
The crowd, led by two banners reading “Black Lives Matter” and “Community Control Over Police,” convened at the Capitol at noon, then marched outside the Dane County Jail, where protest leaders gave speeches. The crowd stopped traffic as they marched down East Washington, then down Williamson Street to the house where Tony Robinson was killed. The afternoon demonstration concluded back at the state Capitol around 4:3o pm.
Later Saturday evening, violence broke out, when agitators smashed the windows of several businesses on State Street.
Police, clad in riot gear, escalated the situation, at first using tear gas and, as the evening went on, pepper spray. Protesters at the top of State Street stood face to face with a row of police officers in riot gear. The windows of at least a dozen businesses were smashed, including Goodman’s Jewelers, Ragstock, Urban Outfitters, Under Armour, the University Book Store, and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art gift shop.
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After yesterday’s peaceful #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd protest had ended, collective violence erupted on State St that lasted into the early morning. Police used tear gas and pepper spray as the rebellion threw rocks and glass at police, smashed and looted many businesses along state street. At an evening press conference across the Capitol Square, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and Council President Sheri Carter urged people to stay home and remember George Floyd. Police estimate 75 businesses on State St were damaged or looted. One squad car was smashed, driven down the street, and set on fire. Community members and city leadership were downtown early this morning, cleaning the streets and sidewalks—work which continued into the afternoon. Late last night, Mayor Satya Rhodes Conway issued a curfew for the isthmus until 5am. The curfew continues tonight from 9:30 pm to 5am tomorrow morning.
The Madison Police Department claims 75 businesses suffered property damage or theft on Saturday night, including stores on State St and some at East Town Mall. WORT has not yet independently confirmed that number. On State Street, flowerpots were overturned, and anti-police graffiti was prevalent. One squad car was set on fire, and completely destroyed.
At a press conference outside the City County Building at 8:30pm Saturday night, Council President Sheri Carter urged folks to stay home and remember George Floyd’s family.
“If you want to make a change, if you want to do something, then go to the polls, let’s make a change together. But today, tomorrow, Sunday, Monday, and all next week, all of our energy needs to be guided towards the family of George Floyd,” she says.
The escalation continued on State Street into the early morning hours of Sunday.
Starting at 7:00 am on Sunday, hundreds turned up to State Street to clean up, install temporary wooden windows, and remove graffiti. The cleanup was organized by Michael Johnson, President and CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County.
In a press conference Sunday morning amidst the cleanup, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway took care to distinguish organized afternoon protest on Saturday from that evening’s unrest.
“I want to thank Freedom, Inc and Urban Triage. And I want to make sure that everyone in our community understands this was not a case of a protest turning violent. This was a case of a protest successfully concluding peacefully, and then a small group of people causing violence and property damage,” Rhodes-Conway said.
The Mayor urged residents to be more concerned about the police killing of and brutality toward black people than the night’s property damage.
“I’m not here to tell anyone how to express their anger. Particularly not black people. I am here to support black leadership in our community. I am here to condemn provocateurs who are inciting violence and trying to divide us,” said Rhodes-Conway.
On Sunday, the city prepared for what would be another turbulent night, initiating an evening curfew.
In a statement authorizing the state’s National Guard to support police presence on Sunday night, Governor Evers wrote,“It is critical that people are able to peacefully and safely express their anger and frustration about systemic racism and injustice. Last night in Madison, we unfortunately saw a few bad actors commit acts of vandalism and violence that put people at risk. It was very clear those who were peacefully protesting were also taking great efforts to deescalate the instigators, at times subjecting themselves to violent outbursts.”
At the 9:30 pm curfew passed, protesters marched down State Street, which was lined with police officers in yellow vests, to gather at the base of the Capitol steps.
But what started as a march turned into violence and a prolonged cat-and-mouse game with police after the crowd surrounded, and one or two agitators began to push, police officers. Scores of police in riot gear quickly appeared and deployed pepper spray and tear gas, and would continue to do so throughout the night, reportedly also using rubber bullets.
Police formed rows and rows, ultimately pushing the crowd down Wisconsin Avenue, Langdon Street, and as the evening turned to early morning, State Street. Protestors set dumpsters on fire in the downtown area and, in at least one instance, attempted to smash the windows of parked cars.
Police arrested a total of 15 people Sunday night, according to a blog post from Acting Police Chief Victor Wahl.
On Monday morning, nine city alders, including Council President Sheri Carter, released a short statement denouncing George Floyd’s murder, writing “It is not as simple as to report the incident, we want officers to take responsibility and intervene, especially if someone’s life is in danger by the hands of their fellow officers and to protect and serve.”
But the statement made no mention of changes to the Madison Police Department.
The Common Council will meet Tuesday night, and a resolution denouncing the nationwide murders of African Americans without consequence is on the agenda.
Also on the agenda is a resolution to create the “MPD Ad Hoc Recommendation Oversight Committee.” That committee will be tasked with implementing ways to improve the Madison Police Department, drawing on 177 specific recommendations.Those recommendations come from a final report of a citizen-led committee tasked with reviewing the policies and procedures of the Madison Police Department in the wake of Tony Robinson’s killing. After about four years of review, that committee issued its final recommendations last year.
The resolution to create the committee specifically addresses recent calls for community control of the police in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.
On Monday evening, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway issued 9:30 pm curfews for Monday and Tuesday night. In a statement, the Mayor said she had had “long conversations” about deescalation techniques with Police Chief Wahl in order to avoid the confrontations of the past two nights, and had sought conversations with Freedom, Inc and Urban Triage “to bring justice and support for communities of color.”