MADISON, Wis. – 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.
Gov. 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," Evers said of the protesters on WTMJ-AM.
Republican state lawmakers and others faulted Evers and Madison's Democratic mayor for not moving more quickly on 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 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-Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union proposals.