MADISON, CLEAR. (AP) – Crowd outside the Wisconsin State Capitol tore down two statues, attacked a state senator, threw a Molotov cocktail into a government building, and tried unsuccessfully to break into the Capitol building amid protests following the arrest of a black man yelling at restaurant customers through a megaphone while wearing a baseball bat.
Capitol police officers used pepper spray on protesters who attempted to enter and successfully repel the historic center of the state government, Madison police said.
Governor Tony Evers said on Wednesday that he was willing to activate the Wisconsin National Guard to protect state properties after the violence.
“What happened in Madison last night was in stark contrast to the peaceful protests we’ve seen in our state in recent weeks, including significant damage to state property,” Evers said in a statement.
The violence in Madison on Tuesday began after Madison police arrested a protester who came to a restaurant across the Capitol from a megaphone with a bat on his shoulder. Video released by the Madison Police Department shows the man talking through the megaphone while walking around the restaurant terrace. He goes in and walks through the restaurant with the club on his shoulder, says he “bothers” the restaurant and talks about God and the police before he walks away.
Another video released by the police features as many as five officers taking the man to the curb and taking him to a police car after initially resisting arrest. Police said the man was able to escape from the police car before being tackled while attempting to escape.
Police said a group of 200 to 300 people gathered and entered a private apartment building, where they surrounded a towing vehicle – forcing the driver to leave it. The crowd broke windows in multiple buildings, threw a Molotov cocktail into the town-provincial building, and shot the statues on the Capitol grounds.
Protesters reciting the release of the arrested man also broke glass in the Tommy Thompson Center, named after the former Republican governor of the state, and smashed windows and lights in the Capitol. Early Wednesday, police worked in riot gear to clear a crowd of about 100 people who had remained in the area.
One of the statues fell over, beheaded and dragged into a lake about half a mile away from Col. Hans Christian Heg’s civil war. He was an anti-slavery activist and leader of an anti-slave trafficking militia in Wisconsin that fought for the Union and died of wounds sustained during the Battle of Chickamauga.
The other statue that has been taken off the pedestal and dragged down the street outside the Capitol represents Wisconsin’s motto, “Ahead.” The statue had previously been destroyed during past protests with paint thrown on and graffiti painted on and around it.
“Forward” was first installed 125 years ago, but replaced by a bronze replica in 1998. It is prominently placed outside the Capitol, across from the University of Wisconsin campus and the street lined with bars, restaurants, and small businesses. That gang has been the target of much of the vandalism since the death of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis on May 25 after a white police officer used his knee to pin the black man’s cuffed neck, even after Floyd didn’t moved more.
The destruction followed similar unrest across the country after Floyd’s death, but in other cities statues of Southern soldiers and other symbols of slavery were destroyed.
Last Tuesday in Madison, Democratic State Senator Tim Carpenter was attacked after taking a mobile video of protesters. Carpenter posted video he was recording before being attacked.
“Beaten / kicked in the head, neck, ribs,” Carpenter tweeted around 4 a.m. Maybe a concussion, in the left eye, is a bit blurry, sore neck and ribs. 8-10 people attacked me. Innocent people are being murdered. Capitol locked – in office. Stop violent now Plz! ‘
The Republican leader of the State Assembly called the protesters who shot the images “criminals.”
“This is absolutely despicable. I am saddened at the cowardice of the Madison officials to deal with these criminals, ”Assembly chairman Robin Vos tweeted as the footage was cut off.
Vos also wondered why Evers, a Democrat, had not intervened to stop the destruction of state property.
Evers said on Wednesday that no violence will be tolerated and those responsible for what happened on Tuesday will be held accountable.
“We must also remember why these protests started: because of the murder of George Floyd, of Breonna Taylor, of the many black lives taken before them, and of racism and structural inequality still pervading this country,” Evers said. “Our cause and our goal must continue to strive for the promise of a just, just and fair state and country, and we can no longer delay implementing those promises.”
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