MPD reports 75 downtown businesses damaged, squad car set on fire after protests turn violent
The Madison Police Department is reporting approximately 75 businesses on State Street were damaged or looted and an MPD squad car was broken into and burned on Saturday after peaceful protests over the death of George Floyd turned violent in the evening.
The peaceful protest began Saturday around the Capitol Square. In a post on their Facebook page, MPD said the demonstration ended at around 4:30 p.m. At that time, they said a group of about 150 people remained “and began damaging property,” at which point MPD used “chemical agents” to move the crowd.
MPD reported about 75 businesses on State Street were damaged and/or looted. Joel DeSpain, MPD spokesperson, said there was also reported damage at Walmart on Watts Road, Pawn America, PrePlayed on Mineral Point, and a semi set on fire at Verlo Mattress. Officers were also called to East and West Towne Malls Saturday night for looting.
One of the State Street businesses impacted by the looting was Goodman's Jewelers, where looters smashed displays and took merchandise.
"These are original cases from the 1930s and they’re not easy to repair, not easy to replace,” said the store's owner John Haynes. Haynes said his shop had already been closed for weeks due to the pandemic.
In their post, MPD said one of their squad cars was broken into then set on fire, and two rifles were stolen out of the car. They also reported damaged to other squad cars, including an armored rescue vehicle that was hit by a bullet.
MPD said three arrest were made. Additionally, one officer was injured, and others were hit by objects like rocks, bottles, and chairs.
Madison Mayor Satya-Rhodes Conway issued a state of emergency for the Isthmus and a curfew that lasted Saturday night through 5 a.m. Sunday. A second curfew will start at 9:30 p.m. Sunday night, through 5:00 on Monday morning.
“I encourage everyone in Madison that is protesting the murder of George Floyd and the insidious, systemic racism that our country suffers from, to follow Madison’s Black leaders and Black-led organizations, who organized a significant, impactful event this afternoon and will continue to work in our community,” said Rhodes-Conway after the events of Saturday night. “To anyone from outside Madison, seeking to foment trouble and harm our community: this emergency order is also directed at you. We don’t want you here, and we reject any attempt to incite violence.”
On Sunday morning, volunteers poured onto State Street to help clean up and repair the damage done from lootings. According to the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, thousand of volunteers arrived.
"It is really jarring to see the glass, the debris, the open stores that are just left open, it's really overwhelming," said Jessica Pteres-Michaud. "I don't know what I was expecting because I've never been in an environment like this, but it's really overwhelming."
In a press conference on Sunday morning, Rhodes-Conway said that while the community is hurting, she remains hopeful seeing how many came to help clean up downtown, and knowing "so many people in our community speak and work for justice."
"I am here to support black leadership in our community, I am here to condemn provocateurs and people inciting violence and trying to divide us," she said. "I am here to call on everyone to work together to build a more just society. Because we will never be able to say all lives matter until black lives matter."
The mayor also called attention to racism and injustice, saying:
Council President Sheri Carter was also present at the press conference, and issued a call to action for the state and city to end institutionalized racism.
"We’re going to remain together because it has to stop," she said. "And I know if any state can get this ball rolling, it’s Wisconsin. If any city can get this ball rolling, it’s Madison. And that is why I brought you a different message today. Because I want us hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, in solidarity, to get this ball rolling and to end this institutionalized racism, to end it today.”
Reflecting on the events overnight, acting Madison Police Chief Vic Wahl called it "a remarkably challenging event for our officers."
“At about 4:30 in the afternoon the main crowd ended the gathering. We actually were about to send our people home and thought that the event was done for the day. As some of our officers began returning to the City County Building, a small group of about 150 people that had broken off from the larger group started following the officers, harassing them," Wahl said. "The officers did not engage, went into the building and that point is when the behavior of that small group began to escalate."
In the Sunday morning press conference, Wahl said the damage began from there and affected businesses across the city, and said some members of that smaller group were armed with large sticks.
Wahl said he is grateful none of the officers were seriously injured. He said there will be a robust staffing level Sunday night as another curfew is in place.
"I want to be clear that the priority is protecting lives and that the focus of the police was keeping people safe," Rhodes-Conway said. "We will be following up on the illegal actions, but we will not be following up on people just because they were protesting. We strongly believe in people's first amendment right to protest and would never want to penalize anyone for that."