At a press conference outside the capitol building yesterday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos criticized both Governor Evers and Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway for their response to Tuesday night’s demonstrations.
“Peaceful protest is one of the ways that change occurs,” Vos said. “But violent protests where a mob forms and the government refuses to act, is the exact opposite of how change will occur.”
The reactions from the Republican Assembly Speaker comes after a demonstration protesting the arrest of Yeshua Musa, a 28-year-old Black man who was arrested outside Cooper’s Tavern yesterday after yelling at diners through a bullhorn and carrying a bat.
Police and federal agents are also investigating a fire started near the City Council Building.
Organizers repeatedly told media to leave and ordered the group to not take photos or videos. Democratic State Senator Tim Carpenter, who had either not heard or heeded that directive and began recording video on his phone, was attacked and beaten by four to eight protesters.
Speaking with WTMJ-AM yesterday, Evers condemned the violence at Tuesday’s protest.
“If your goal was to advance social justice and policing reforms in the state of Wisconsin and making sure systemic racism is a thing of the past, you failed,” Evers said.
Evers’ statements came shortly after he introduced nine new police reform bills last Friday, June 19th. June 19th, also known as Juneteenth, celebrates the freedom of the last of America’s enslaved people.
The new bills would, among other things, allocate one million dollars to fund community outreach and violence mitigation programs, ban the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants, and set standardized use of force policies for police departments across the state.
Those bills come after the state Legislative Black Caucus called on Governor Evers to convene a special legislative session to address police reform.
Governor Evers declined to call such a session, writing in a statement, “Calling another special session where legislative leaders come in and gavel in and gavel out risks us losing this incredible moment in history where we can and should be able to work together.”
Speaker Vos refused to comment on the possibility of a special session, but says he has spoken with members of the Black Caucus about potential compromises.
“We actually have had good conversations,” Vos said. “I had a conversation with the chair of the black caucus, I also have been working with members to see where consensus can be gathered. Unfortunately, like far too many things Governor Evers does, he didn’t consult the legislature.”
Representative David Bowen, a member of the Black Caucus, says that the talks with Republican leadership could be the first step to meaningful reform.
“I am hopeful that this is a sign that the speaker wants to act in good faith and is taking very seriously the calls for change that people are marching for all over the state.”
Vos also declined to lay out a specific timeline for any action. Responding to one question asking when protesters could anticipate future plans, Vos responded saying that he didn’t care what demonstrators wanted. Republican Representative Jim Steineke quickly jumped in to clarify Vos’ point.
“I don’t care about the protesters,” Vos told reporters. “It’s about the all the citizens of the state. And they have a right to give us their input [on the bills].”
“And let me just be clear,” Steineke interjected, “We’re not saying that we don’t care about the peaceful protesters, we care about what they’re saying and it’s important and there’s a valid cause behind it. What the speaker’s referring to are the rioters and looters and the people that were perpetrating violence last night. We don’t care what they have to say. We’re not going to negotiate with terrorists.”
But, Representative Bowen says that people shouldn’t hold the actions of a few protesters against the entire movement.
“There’s a blanket title being used for everybody that’s out expressing their frustration and their advocacy. There are some folks that are focused on using their frustrations the wrong way, and that needs to be held separate from the people who are trying to change these systems.”