MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Protesters shut down a six-lane state highway that feeds into downtown Madison for a second day on Tuesday, as Gov. Tony Evers called for the Legislature to pass a law to reduce the use of police force and urged a united battle against racism.
The latest actions came after a third night of violence gripped downtown Madison, with protesters spraying graffiti on the state Capitol and nearby buildings, dumping paint on the beloved “Forward” statue and breaking into boarded up businesses. Police in riot gear used tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Madison, the liberal state capital with one of the deepest racial divides in the nation, has been a flashpoint for protests over the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis policeman pressed his knee into his neck for minutes, even after he stopped moving and pleading for air.
Evers, in a video message released Tuesday afternoon, urged calm and unity. The Democrat condemned “all those who encourage violence against black lives” and urged systematic change to fight racism. He did not speak directly to Republican criticism that he hasn’t done enough to quell the violence.
Evers called on the Republican-controlled Legislature to pass a Democratic-sponsored bill that would require law enforcement agencies to minimize the use of force and prioritize preserving life. He also called for local government leaders to join the call for change. The bill died when the Legislature adjourned its regular session earlier this year.
Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway condemned the vandalism and called for an end. “This is not protest. This is dangerous criminal behavior,” the mayor said in a statement Tuesday.
Rhodes-Conway said she welcomes protests, but does not want legitimate protests “to continue to provide cover for this violent, unacceptable behavior.”
Meanwhile, workers boarded up storefronts near the state Capitol and University of Wisconsin campus that have borne the brunt of the vandalism since Saturday night, to ward off any more destruction.
“I have seen hope in those who’ve joined this cause in support, who’ve lent a hand to a neighbor, who’ve showed up with brooms and dustbins in hand to help clean up our neighborhoods,” Evers said. “We must use this dark moment to begin to be an example for the rest of the nation. … Please be kind to each other, support each other, and keep each other safe tonight and in the days ahead.”
Hundreds of protesters again blocked traffic on John Nolen Drive, a state highway that feeds into downtown Madison. Traffic was stopped early evening on Monday in a peaceful protest and marchers held up traffic there for about two hours on Tuesday before forming a caravan through the city, including to the home of the Dane County sheriff in a residential neighborhood where they left flowers and signs saying “Black Lives Matter.”
In Milwaukee, police fired several tear gas canisters and rubber bullets at protesters Tuesday night, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Police said protesters were ordered to disperse after throwing rocks, glass and “Molotov Cocktails” at officers. An armed suspect in the crowd also was taken into custody, said Sgt. Sheronda Grant, a Milwaukee police spokeswoman.
Things turned violent in Madison late Monday night into Tuesday morning. Police said around 1 a.m. that someone fired a handgun in the air, two men were beaten with a crowbar and others attempted to light Molotov cocktails. Madison Police Chief Vic Wahl said in his blog that multiple police officers were struck with rocks and projectiles.
Madison police said 15 people were arrested Monday night, bringing the number of arrests since Saturday to at least 32.
The Capitol has increasingly become the target. A four-letter expletive was painted in large red letters on the building Monday night.
Graffiti painted on the state veterans museum, the “Forward” statue and nearby sidewalks and boarded-up storefronts said: “We had enough,” “Where is our museum?” and “Do you hear us?”
Criticism from Republican state lawmakers over Madison’s handling of the protests escalated Tuesday.
Several lawmakers retweeted photos of the vandalized “Forward” statue. It 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 have been the target of much of the vandalism since Saturday.
Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke directed a Twitter message bearing an image of the statue to Evers and Rhodes-Conway, both Democrats.
“When does it end?” Steineke tweeted. “When are you going to put a stop to this? Without a massive police presence (with actual arrests), this is your ‘new normal’.”
Rhodes-Conway has condemned the property damage and violence, but also said that frustration should instead be directed at how black people are treated.