MADISON — After two nights of peaceful protests that turned violent in downtown Madison, marchers were back Monday stopping traffic as the city braced for another round.
During the weekend, police used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse crowds that were damaging storefronts and setting fires to dumpsters and cars.
A mutual-aid request for more law enforcement officers went out to counties surrounding Dane and a team from Jefferson County was one of those to respond.
The officers were part of crowd control on State Street and the Capitol Square and are part of the team that were to be there Monday night.
“We are seeing a group of individuals, no matter what, they are going out and destroying property. Those individuals speak for the minority for those good protesters that are doing what they should be doing — speaking for a cause, their First Amendment rights, freedom of speech,” said Chief Deputy Jeffrey Parker of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, who is a certified defensive and arrest tactics instructor through Law Enforcement Standards Board for more than 27 years.
Monday marked one week since the death of George Floyd, who was injured when a white Minneapolis police officer used his knee to pin Floyd to the ground for some eight minutes while Floyd pleaded for air and eventually stopped moving.
That incident sparked protests and clashes with police in cities across the nation, this past weekend including protests in Madison, Racine and Milwaukee. Volunteers in Milwaukee and Madison also took to the streets on Monday, as they had on Sunday, to clean up damage from the night before.
Madison police reported Monday that multiple stores were broken into in the State Street area Sunday night. On Saturday night, about 75 businesses were damaged. Police said multiple fires were set and several officers were injured by rocks and other projectiles that were thrown at them.
“What I have been seeing is a lot of officers showing a great amount of patience and resiliency and professionalism,” Chief Deputy Parker said. “I have seen the officers in Madison standing the line. The only time I’ve seen the deployment of tear gas is when they see the destruction of property, which is a just (cause) in using tear gas.”
Parker said the goal with tear gas is to simply move the crowd back. Once that space is created, the officers disengage.
“Hoping they don’t have to repeat it and escalate any further than that,” he added.
The unit sent from Jefferson County has undergone crowd-control training, Parker said, and the team received a grant from Wisconsin Homeland Security. With that money, the group here, called the Crowd Control Unit, purchased equipment.
The main focus of the group is to provide extra security for large gatherings like the Democratic National Convention, which was going to be held in Milwaukee this summer, but has been postponed due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
Once the team travels to another jurisdiction, like Madison, the officers from that city are the ones in charge, Parker said, noting that Monday marked the third day the local officers were in Madison.
“Over the last few nights when our team has been there, some of our officers played the role of simply driving with Madison police officers as a two-man squad,” Parker said.
Others were kept in stand-by reserve status.
Each member of the unit has a “squad bag” filled with items such as a riot helmet, gas mask, wooden baton, protective gloves, shin and elbow pads and a vest, for protection in case objects are thrown at them.
Parker said it is unfortunate that tear gas and pepper spray have had to be deployed, but that is the right protocol when there is a threat to an officer. It is used simply to move the person, or persons, back, he emphasized.
He said dialogue also is used to help control the situation, adding that the authority is there not only to protect the public and property in general, but also to protect those who want to speak out during a protest.
“They have that right to speak out. We have to protect those people,” Parker said. “They deserve to be out there.”
While the center of the violence was downtown Madison, police also responded to reports of businesses being broken into, including Target in Sun Prairie.
One of the 15 people arrested Sunday night was armed with a handgun, police said. There also were multiple attempts to steal a police squad car, but none were successful. On Saturday night, a police car was stolen and set ablaze.
On Sunday night in Racine, someone set fire to a community policing building named for civil rights leader Thelma Orr. About 150 people marched to the police station, where they threw rocks at police who were wearing riot gear. The crowd dispersed after police fired tear gas.
Also on Monday, protesters marched in the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha and once again in Madison, this time blocking traffic on a busy six-lane street that feeds into downtown. Chanting insults at police, “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “Black lives matter!” the protesters had traffic at a standstill.
National Guard troops were deployed in both Madison and Milwaukee to assist local law enforcement. Both cities were operating under curfews designed to reduce the number of people on the street.
Madison police said there were several hundred people in the crowd Sunday night. A peaceful protest on Saturday drew more than 1,000 people, before a group of about 150 later that night turned violent.
Floyd, who was black and handcuffed, died May 25. The officer was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter on Friday. He and the other three officers who were arresting Floyd were fired on Tuesday. None of the other officers have been charged.
“It’s a tragedy what happened to Mr. Floyd and my heart goes out to his family and the city of Minneapolis,” Parker said. “Both law enforcement and the country are hurting because of this.
“As a nation, we have to listen to one another. We have to respect one another. We have to hear each other’s voice,” he said. “Ultimately, that’s the only way as a nation we can heal: Become more loving toward one another.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story