MADISON – Boiling rage in the wake of another black man’s death by police continues to spill over in the state’s capital where black and white residents live in separate worlds, divided by some of the widest disparities in the nation.
The city’s most popular business district looked like a war zone Tuesday morning following looting and destruction by a group of people who broke off from a mostly-peaceful protest to stomp out car windows, light Molotov cocktails, loot stores and beat two men with a crowbar.
Police left the crowd alone until about 1 a.m. when looting and concentrated violence began. Madison Police Chief Vic Wahl said one person fired a gun into the air during the mayhem.
At that point, the officers used tear gas to break up the crowd. It was the third straight night of peaceful protesting during the day and destruction and violence at night.
“For the third straight night, a number of individuals have come downtown not for the purpose of First Amendment expression, but to engage in violence, looting and property damage,” Wahl wrote in his daily blog.
Just before 2 a.m., two men who participated in the day’s protest confronted a woman who was damaging property and looting stores.
Several looters turned on the men and attacked them with pieces of wood and a crowbar, according to Madison police. One suffered multiple broken bones and the other needed stitches.
M. Adams of Freedom Inc., who organized the peaceful protest during the day, said this week the goal of demonstrations is to afflict the comfortable in an effort to force city and state officials to address the disproportionate rate black residents are incarcerated, hurt or killed by police, and live in poverty.
Wisconsin, and especially Madison, is home to some of the widest racial gaps in academic achievement and economic status in the nation.
The majority of black Madison residents are considered to be living in poverty in a city with some of the most wealthy and educated white people in the state.
The disparities for children in Madison schools are even more stark. About 65% of black students have below basic skills in math and reading, according to the Department of Public Instruction, while just 13% of white students have low skills in subject areas that can set children up for a successful life if mastered.
The protesters’ message couldn’t be missed Tuesday morning. The iconic Forward statue that sits on the west Capitol steps was covered in red paint. On the state veterans museum, someone had scrawled “Where is our museum?” and “Do you hear us now?”
The Capitol itself was vandalized with spray paint and nearly every step and sidewalk on its west side were painted with “Black Lives Matter,” “I can’t breathe,” and other pleas that have been widely used to protest the disproportionate rate at which black men and women are arrested, or worse, by police.
But groups not associated with the daytime protesters have continued to destroy State Street — leaving nearly every building spray painted and smashed.
On Tuesday morning at around 5 a.m., a couple business owners or staff were already cleaning up — for the third day in a row.
One man, who was sweeping a sidewalk in the 400 block of State Street and did not want to be named, was angry with city leaders for what he characterized as allowing the destruction to continue night after night. He questioned why a curfew was imposed if police aren’t enforcing it.
“I believe in the cause but this is devaluing it,” he said of the vandalism.
Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway earlier this week condemned the property damage and violence but also said that any frustration should be instead directed to the treatment of black lives.
“If you are angry about property damage, be more angry about the unjustified deaths of black people,” she said. “Property can be repaired, but we can’t bring people back to life.”
More than 75 businesses on State Street were vandalized over the weekend while looting and destruction also hit stores on the east and west side of Madison.
An owner of a luxury auto dealer told WKOW six vehicles worth more than $200,000 were stolen on Sunday.
Two malls on either side of the city were broken into and two Target stores were looted, among other stores that were robbed while protests downtown were leading to groups committing violence and destruction.
Hours after the Capitol and its iconic landmark was defaced, Gov. Tony Evers released a four-minute video message about Floyd’s death, racial disparities, and the demonstrations.
“We must see the trauma, fear, and exhaustion of being black in our state and in our country,” he said. “We must reject the efforts of those who seek to undermine and distract from the pain of generations of injustice.”
He did not address the violence and vandalism that have sprung up in Madison on the tail end of peaceful protests for the past three days — chaos GOP legislative leaders have blamed him for not addressing.
“Leaders need to lead in times like this. Citizens look towards their government to protect the safety of the public. This clearly wasn’t done last night,” Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, said in a tweet. “The @MayorOfMadison & @GovEvers need to make it abundantly clear this will no longer be tolerated.”
Adams told the State Journal that the peaceful protests, at least, will stop when city and state officials respond to demands, like firing the Madison police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in 2015 after an altercation.
“Madison is similar to Minneapolis in that it is a liberal bastion. And what people have to reckon with here is that Madison is guilty of white supremacy and terrorism against black people,” Adams said. “So what they should be doing right away is to take action.”
At 1 p.m., another protest was beginning in downtown Madison.
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