Governor activates Guard after Wisconsin violence
2 statues toppled in wake of Black protester’s arrest
MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers 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 on 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.
Evers, who toured the damage 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.”
Republican state lawmakers and others faulted Evers and Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway for not moving more quickly Tuesday to quell the violence.
“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 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-Gov. Scott Walker’s antiunion proposals.
It also exposed simmering anger over the 2015 shooting by police of a Black man by an officer who remains on the force.
The violence started Tuesday after Madison police arrested a protester who came to a restaurant across the street from the Capitol with a baseball bat on his shoulder. Video released by Madison police shows the man, Devenore 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.
Johnson was charged in 2015 with being a passenger in a stolen car, resisting an officer and theft, according to online court records. He pleaded guilty to being a passenger and was sentenced to probation. The following year he was charged with being a party to armed robbery and theft. Under a plea deal, he was sentenced to probation after pleading guilty to theft.
Police said that Tuesday night a group of 200 to 300 people gathered and entered a private condominium building where they surrounded a tow truck, 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 Capitol grounds.
Protesters chanting for Johnson’s release also broke glass at the Tommy Thompson Center, named for the former Republican governor, and smashed windows and lights at the Capitol.
Democratic state Sen. Tim Carpenter was assaulted after taking a cellphone video of protesters.
“Punched/kicked in the head, neck, ribs,” 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 Col. 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 of injuries suffered during the Battle of Chickamauga.
The base of the Heg statue was defaced with graffiti Wednesday morning that read “Fire Matt Kenny,” a reference to a white Madison police officer who shot and killed Tony Robinson, 19, in 2015. Kenny said Robinson had attacked him.
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, who is Black, cleared Kenny of any criminal wrongdoing and he remains a Madison officer.
The other statue taken down represents Wisconsin’s motto “Forward.” 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 after a white police officer used his knee to pin the handcuffed Black man’s neck.
The “Forward” statue lies in the street Tuesday on Capitol Square in Madison, Wisconsin.