Wisconsin governor calls for lawmakers to pass bill on use of force

Published: Jun. 2, 2020 at 9:00 AM CDT
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Protesters spray painted graffiti on the Wisconsin state Capitol, dumped paint on the beloved “Forward” statue outside, broke into businesses downtown and defaced the Wisconsin Veterans Museum before police in riot gear used tear gas to disperse the crowd early 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.

It was the third night of violence in Madison, the liberal state capital with one of the deepest racial divides in the nation. Demonstrations have flared there and across the state and country over the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis policeman pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes, even after he stopped moving and pleading for air. The rallies have turned violent in several cities.

Gov. Tony Evers, in a video message released Tuesday, emphasized the need to combat racism and unacceptable police use of force. Evers 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.

Gov. Evers: We Must Confront Society’s Comfort with Racism

There was no empathy or humanity in George Floyd’s death, but there must be empathy and humanity in our response to it. We must offer our compassion, we must offer our support, but most of all, we must offer our action. We can start with accountability for unacceptable use of force by certain law enforcement officers in our country and our state. I am calling on the Legislature to immediately pass Assembly Bill 1012 that would reform use of force policies and send it to my desk for signature. This legislation is an important first step, but we know the solution to racism isn’t in one bill or one person. We need systemic change to address the racism in our state and our country. We must confront society’s comfort with racism. We must be willing to face it, with clear eyes and open hearts, recognizing that folks who look like me have been part of creating, exacerbating, and benefiting from the systems that we must now turn to dismantle. We must use this dark moment to begin to be an example for the rest of the nation. Wisconsin will lead, we will listen, and we are going to put in the work.

Posted by Governor Tony Evers on Tuesday, June 2, 2020

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.

to read Assembly Bill 1012.

“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.”

The unrest late Monday in Madison came after an hourslong peaceful protest during which the mayor spoke with marchers who stopped traffic on a busy six-lane street downtown. Although the demonstration was tense at times it had moments of levity, with participants line dancing in the street.

Protests late Monday in Milwaukee remained peaceful. Protesters walked for miles from Milwaukee to the suburbs of Whitefish Bay and Glendale, before heading back into the city early Tuesday. Milwaukee Police said before the protest began that they had arrested 109 people the previous two nights for curfew violations.

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.

“The cause is just but the reaction by those wishing destruction and the lack of response by those entrusted with keeping the peace is indefensible,” said Republican Rep. John Nygren, of Marinette, in a tweet sharing a picture of the vandalism.

Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke directed a Twitter message bearing an image of the statue to Evers and Madison Mayor Satya 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.

Evers activated the Wisconsin National Guard to assist local police in Madison, Milwaukee and Kenosha since Saturday. Hundreds of troops from the National Guard have been on the scene of protests.