Riots broke out at the end of the night on State Street again Monday, but it shouldn’t overshadow the 13 hours of peaceful protest demonstrated earlier that day.
Starting at noon, protesters gathered again in front of the Dane County Jail to demand Black inmates be released. From there, the group moved down to John Nolan Drive, where they sat and blocked traffic coming in and out of the city.
Once the protest had reached the intersection of Broom and John Nolan, organizers put together a die-in in the road. White protesters were told to form a protective barrier around POC who laid down in the middle of the circle.
Speakers then took to the loudspeaker after nearly five minutes of silence. They spoke out about injustices they face every day, and one concluded with “we are non-violent people, but you can only kick a dog so long.”
The circle stayed intact for another hour or so, before gearing up to mobilize back down the road. However, after a vote was taken, protesters decided to stay and block traffic on John Nolan through rush hour.
“We have to make white people know our presence,” protest organizer Brandi Grayson said over the loudspeaker. “They can’t drive down one of the busiest roads in this city, they will know us.”
After a short break for water and snacks, the Mayor of Madison Satya Rhodes-Conway came down to the protest to listen to what protesters had to say. She said on loudspeaker the city is willing to work with “any organization that’s interested to keep the peace that are alternatives to police.”
However, many people in the crowd seemed dissatisfied with her responses to their questions and criticisms.
At one point, a man walked through the crowd yelling that her words were just a campaign speech, one that POC have heard many times — many seemed to agree with him.
When Rhodes-Conway left the protest, she said it was “really important that we don’t ignore [protesters], we are going to do the work that we can do — we are going to work as hard as we can and keep listening.”
A Madison woman caught up with Rhodes-Conway on her way out, and asked for “real change, not just talk.”
“I want to hear you tell us you can do it,” the woman said, “there’s no ‘I’m going to try’ — it’s that simple.”
By about 7:30 p.m., the protest mobilized to march down the street back to the County Jail. At this point, the group's numbers had swelled to well over a thousand people, and their chants echoed down the empty avenue.
When the protest had reached Wilson Street, someone outside the protest ran up and alerted organizers there was a white man with a bullet proof vest and a gun up the road with a vantage point of the protest. Police could not do anything about it, as he hadn’t created a civil disturbance yet, so neighbors who lived near the man helped back him off. Organizers then had white protesters create a barrier between the rest of the protest and the man, so the march could continue.
When the protest had again reached the County Jail, protesters took to the loudspeakers again to ask for authorities to free incarcerated POC, before telling the group to go home.
“Protect your kids,” Grayson said. “Go home.”
A group of protesters continued the march down State Street however, ending between Urban Outfitters and State Street Brats. It was 9 p.m. and no police were in sight, despite it being a half-hour until city curfew.
When the group coalesced, the march moved back up State Street, again with nearly a thousand protesters.
At curfew, there were still no police visible near the Capitol — and protesters continued demonstrations with chants. The police strategy for the night seemed to be to let the protesters be as long as nothing violent happened, and it worked very well for about three hours.
A few skirmishes broke out in the crowd, but organizers were able to keep the peace each time. At about midnight, rocks were thrown at a flower boutique at the end of the 100 block, where a mob of protesters chased the man away, screaming at him to keep it peaceful.
An eyewitness said a white man, dressed in all black with a hood on, began to throw rocks at the business when the eyewitness stepped out to protect it. When the group came to stop him, he ran around the corner and promptly hammered them with pepper spray, before driving away in an orange pick-up truck.
Once the incident ended, everyone moved back up the block and continued with peaceful demonstrations.
At 12:42, the protest was beginning to lose steam. Many people began leaving the crowd, and the rest were mostly just standing around talking to each other.
Then all hell broke loose.
Looters began to smash windows on the 100 block. Organizers had no power to stop their actions and the riot began to move down the street. About 100 to 200 people then joined and began to break windows, while the rest of the protest dispersed.
From what I saw, the main goal of the rioters was to cause as much destruction as possible. Almost every window I saw was smashed to pieces, though I didn’t see much looting occur. At one point, I saw a rioter with a sledgehammer smashing windows at multiple businesses.
The riot moved all the way down State, when they ran out of glass to break. The riot then moved to the Kollege Klub bar, and down Langdon Street where a few apartment building convenience shops were broken into and a patio umbrella set on fire. Rioters then moved back onto State on the 200 block when sirens started to be heard.
SWAT Police met protesters on the 300 block and began to walk forward to push protesters back and away from the situation. For all the tear gas and pepper spray I saw on Saturday and Sunday, police used pepper spray once on the group from what I saw, and dropped three or four canisters of tear gas to neutralize the situation.
Once protesters had been moved out of State, police set up a perimeter and stood guard.
The riots quieted down after that. Rioters had been mostly scattered around the area, and only one or two people stayed to confront police.
It’s important to note — the rioters were not the protesters. I overheard conversations from groups showing up very late at night specifically to loot and riot.
The riot at the end of the night should not overshadow the 13 hours of peaceful protest demonstrated in Madison.
Writer’s Note: I think police handled Monday extremely well. It was a fantastic decision to stay away from the peaceful protest after curfew, and I think that was a very positive step forward. I did not feel excessive force was not used on rioters like it was on Saturday and Sunday, though I think tear gas should be illegal regardless. It is my hope police do not revert back to how they responded to the situation over the weekend as a result of riots at the end of the night. I think the next step of positive action would be to have police kneel and march with protesters, so they can hear why people are upset firsthand.
Second, it isn’t lost on me I am a white journalist covering a protest for African American and POC rights. There is no way I can pretend to understand everything they are put through each and every day.
That being said, in the words of a chant that was used often in the protest, “White silence is violence.” The most important thing people like me, and who look like me can do is to continue to speak out against injustices we see in our country. Support Black-owned businesses, and donate to funds that help fight for POCs.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of funds you can donate to right now to help.