MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Crowds outside the Wisconsin State Capitol tore down two statues, attacked a state senator, threw a Molotov cocktail into a government building and unsuccessfully tried to break into the Capitol building amid protests following the arrest of a Black man who shouted at restaurant customers through a megaphone while carrying a baseball bat.
Police officers inside the Capitol used pepper spray against protesters who were trying to gain entry into the historic center of state government, successfully repelling them, Madison police said.
Gov. Tony Evers on Wednesday said he was prepared to activate the Wisconsin National Guard to protect state properties in the wake of the violence.
“What happened in Madison last night presented a stark contrast from the peaceful protests we have seen across our state in recent weeks, including significant damage to state property," Evers said in a statement.
The violence in Madison on Tuesday started after Madison police arrested a protester who came to a restaurant across the street from the Capitol talking through a megaphone with a bat on his shoulder. Video released by Madison police shows the man talking through the megaphone while walking around the restaurant’s outdoor patio. He goes inside and paces through the restaurant with the bat on his shoulder, saying he’s “disturbing” the restaurant and talking about God and the police before walking out.
On another video released by police, as many as five officers can be seen taking the man to the sidewalk and carrying him to a police squad car after he initially resisted arrest. Police said the man was able to escape from the squad car before being tackled as he attempted to escape.
Police said a group of 200 to 300 people gathered and entered a private condominium building, where they surrounded a towing vehicle — forcing the driver to abandon it. The crowd broke windows in multiple buildings, threw a Molotov cocktail into the city-county building and brought down the statues on the grounds of the Capitol.
Protesters chanting for the release of the man who’d been arrested also broke glass at the Tommy Thompson Center, named after the state’s former Republican governor, and smashed windows and lights at the state Capitol. Early Wednesday, police in riot gear worked to clear a crowd of about 100 people that remained in the area.
One of the statues toppled, decapitated and dragged into a lake about a half-mile away was of Civil War Col. Hans Christian Heg. He was an anti-slavery activist and leader of an anti-slave catcher militia in Wisconsin who who fought for the Union and died from injuries suffered during the Battle of Chickamauga.
The other statue taken down from its pedestal and dragged in the street outside the Capitol represents Wisconsin’s motto of “Forward.” The statue had been previously vandalized in past protests with paint thrown on it and graffiti spray painted on and around it.
“Forward” was first installed 125 years ago, but replaced with a bronze replica in 1998. It is placed prominently outside the Capitol, facing the University of Wisconsin campus and the street lined with bars, restaurants and small businesses. That corridor has been the target of much of the vandalism since the death of George Floyd, who died on May 25 in Minneapolis after a white police officer used his knee to pin down the handcuffed Black man’s neck even after Floyd stopped moving.
The destruction followed similar unrest nationwide following Floyd’s death, but in other cities statues of Confederate soldiers and other symbols of slavery were destroyed.
Late Tuesday in Madison, Democratic state Sen. Tim Carpenter was assaulted after taking a cellphone video of protesters. Carpenter posted video he was recording before being assaulted.
“Punched/kicked in the head, neck, ribs,” Carpenter tweeted around 4 a.m. “Maybe concussion, socked in left eye is little blurry, sore neck & ribs. 8-10 people attacked me. Innocent people are going to get killed. Capitol locked- stuck in office.Stop violence nowPlz!”
The Republican leader of the state Assembly called the protesters who knocked down the statues “thugs.”
“This is absolutely despicable. I am saddened at the cowardice of Madison officials to deal with these thugs,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos tweeted as the statues were being torn down.
Vos also questioned why Evers, a Democrat, had not intervened to stop the destruction that took place on state property.
Evers said Wednesday that no violence will be tolerated and those responsible for what happened Tuesday will be held accountable.
“We also cannot allow ourselves to forget the reason why these protests began: because of the murder of George Floyd, of Breonna Taylor, of the many Black lives taken before them, and because racism and structural inequality still pervade this country,” Evers said. “Our cause and our purpose must continue to be the pursuit of the promise of an equitable, just, and fair state and country, and we cannot delay delivering on these promises any longer.”