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MADISON, Wisconsin (AP) – Wisconsin’s governor activated the National Guard on Wednesday to protect state properties after a night of violence that included the toppling of two statues outside the state Capitol, one of which commemorated an abolitionist Civil War hero.
Protesters also attacked a state senator, threw a Molotov cocktail into a government building and attempted to break into the Capitol Tuesday night, only to be repelled by pepper spray from police stationed inside. The violence broke out as a group of 200 to 300 people protested the arrest of a black man who shouted at restaurant customers through a megaphone while carrying a baseball bat.
On Wednesday night, about 40 people gathered peacefully outside the county jail where the man was being held, calling for his release. A crowd of about 100 people congregated outside the Capitol, where one of the statues used to stand, as Madison police watched. There was no sign of the National Guard.
Governor Tony Evers, who toured the damage from Tuesday night and said the violence was in “stark contrast” to earlier peaceful protests, said he was activating the National Guard “to make sure people can exercise their First Amendment rights while ensuring the safety of members of the public and state buildings and infrastructure.”
“If your goal was to advance social justice and policing reforms in the state of Wisconsin and making sure systemic racism is a thing of the past, you failed,” Mr. Evers said of the protesters on WTMJ-AM.
“The mob has become very bold,” said Madison Alderman Paul Skidmore. “They see they can get away with a little, and they inch forward more and more. [Downtown Madison] is a battle zone right now, and I fear for my city.”
The violence unfolded in a city long known as a liberal bastion with a long history of protest, dating back to student demonstrations on the University of Wisconsin campus in the 1960s. About 100,000 people protested in 2011 over then-Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union proposals.
The violence started Tuesday after Madison police arrested a protester who came to a restaurant across the street from the Capitol with a bat on his shoulder. Video released by Madison police shows the man, Devonere Johnson, talking through a megaphone while walking around the restaurant’s outdoor patio and inside, 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 Johnson to the sidewalk and carrying him to a police squad car after he resisted arrest.
Police said on Tuesday night a group of 200 to 300 people broke windows in multiple buildings, threw a Molotov cocktail into the city-county building, brought down the statues on the Capitol grounds, broke glass at a state office building and smashed windows and lights at the Capitol.
Democratic state Senator Tim Carpenter was assaulted after taking a cellphone video of protesters.
“Punched/kicked in the head, neck, ribs,” Mr. Carpenter tweeted around 4 a.m. “Innocent people are going to get killed.”
One of the statues toppled, decapitated and dragged into a lake about a half-mile away was of Civil War Colonel Hans Christian Heg. He was an anti-slavery activist and leader of an anti-slave catcher militia in Wisconsin who fought for the Union and died from injuries suffered during the Battle of Chickamauga.
The other statue taken down represents Wisconsin’s motto “Forward.” The statue was first installed 125 years ago but replaced with a bronze replica in 1998. It sat prominently outside the Capitol, facing the University of Wisconsin campus and State Street, an avenue lined with bars, restaurants and small businesses. That corridor has been the target of much of the vandalism since the death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis.
Protester Micah Le said the two statues paint a picture of Wisconsin as a racially progressive state even though slavery has continued in the form of a corrections system built around incarcerating blacks.
“The fall of the statues is a huge gain for the movement, though I think that liberal and conservative media outlets will try to represent last night as senseless violence rather than the strategic political move it really was,” Mr. Le wrote.