Over 1,000 demonstrators gathered in the downtown Madison area late Monday night to protest the police shooting of a 29-year-old Black man named Jacob Blake that took place earlier this week in Kenosha, Wis.
During the unrest, protestors lit several dumpsters on fire and damaged a number of buildings throughout the downtown area before being confronted with tear gas and pepper spray by Madison Riot Police.
With peaceful demonstrations occurring throughout the day, the protest began with a march down Langdon street around 8 pm. Those participating encouraged onlookers to join the demonstration, urging students in fraternities and sororities to “Get out of the house and onto the streets.” The crowd eventually traveled up onto state street and settled on the western corner of the capital.
The crowd largely consisted of younger residents, many of whom were influenced by the unrest that took place across the nation following the death of George Floyd in late May. Alyssa Rodriquez was one such student.
“This is a really important issue that is continuing that should not be. It’s ridiculous that this is still a problem in 2020 and I’m just here to show my support,” Rodriquez said. “I hope that UW-Madison can finally understand that what we want is change and that we keep on promoting inclusivity and diversity but that's giving a false reality to what campus life is really like here.”
Initially, demonstrators remained on the capitol square where several individuals addressed the crowd and led chants that included “This isn't a riot, this is a revolution” and “Black lives matter.”
A speaker specifically noted that “local businesses are not our enemy,” seemingly in an attempt to discourage individuals from attacking nearby shops and restaurants.
Additionally, speakers drew several parallels between the shooting of Jacob Blake and Tony Robinson, an unarmed Black teenager killed by Madison police in 2015, with calls to fire and prosecute Luke Courtier and Matt Kenny, the officers who shot Blake and Robinson, respectively.
At approximately 11 p.m., protestors marched to South Hamilton Street where individuals proceeded to smash windows at the Dane County Courthouse and set a number of dumpsters on fire. Less than 15 minutes later, the fires were near 10 feet tall.
Several of the speakers leading the march pushed individuals back from the flames, citing that those who approached the fires were “a liability.” Firefighters arrived on the scene shortly after.
Demonstrators went on to loot several businesses including Badger Liquor, Warby Parker and a Walgreens in addition to damaging an array of storefronts, restaurants and bars throughout the downtown area.
At several points during the protest, a number of anti-protestors clad in tactical gear and bearing rifles patrolled the perimeter of the crowd. When asked what their purpose at the protest was, one member who refused to give his name responded that the group was present to defend local businesses from mob violence.
Early Tuesday morning, the Madison Police Department confronted protesters leading to a brief standoff before officers deployed tear gas, pepper spray and sponge bullets which eventually caused much of the crowd to disperse.
Mayor Rhodes-Conway denounced the violent tactics utilized by protestors on Tuesday morning.
“Our city honors the First Amendment and peaceful protests, but we draw the line on arson, theft, and criminal damage to property that puts people’s lives in danger,” Rhodes-Conway stated. “This behavior does not build a movement… it undercuts the movement, and in Madison, it divides a community that largely supports change.”
The mayor instead encouraged Madisonians to pursue changes through other means, advising residents to reach out to their state representatives, county supervisors and city alders about legislative changes and attend committee meetings.
Other voices in city government criticized Rhodes-Conway’s perspective on the issue.
“I just think that white politicians such as Rhodes-Conway aren't listening as well as they should,” said Ald. Max Prestigacomo, of the majority-student District 8.“Politicians are not our answer… we are living in such a broken system we need to start building community equity in Madison and we can do more by emphasizing non-violent public safety measures and continuing to show up to more protests like the one's last night.”
When asked about his feelings surrounding the looting and vandalism, Prestigacomo responded, “We’ll address the property damage when it's a priority, but right now Black people are dying at a disproportionate rate because of policing so frankly that takes priority.”
Six protestors have since been arrested including Jordan King, a well-known local organizer and friend of Tony Robinson. The MPD anticipates that several more arrests will be made after additional evidence is reviewed.
Blake has since been reported to be in stable condition, although he has been left paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the injuries he sustained during his confrontation with the Kenosha Police Department.