MADISON – Fury exploded outside the Wisconsin State Capitol on Tuesday night as protesters smashed windows at the statehouse, attacked a state senator, and tore down two statues — including one of an abolitionist who died trying to end slavery during the Civil War.
The unrest began earlier Tuesday following the arrest of a Black man who was arrested after bringing a megaphone and a baseball bat into a Capitol square restaurant. It followed weeks of mostly peaceful protests of the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a white police officer
During the melee late Tuesday, Democratic state Sen. Tim Carpenter was assaulted after taking a photo of protesters.
“I don’t know what happened … all I did was stop and take a picture … and the next thing I’m getting five-six punches, getting kicked in the head,” Carpenter told a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter following the assault.
Protesters, chanting for the release of the man who’d been arrested earlier, also broke glass at the Tommy Thompson Center on West Washington Avenue and smashed windows at the Dane County Jail and at the state Capitol before police arrived just before 1 a.m.
The destruction followed similar incidents in cities nationwide following the death of Floyd in Minneapolis.
In other cities, statues of Confederate soldiers and other symbols of slavery were destroyed.
In Madison, statues of Lady Forward and Col. Christian Heg were dragged away from their spots guarding the statehouse. Heg fought and died for the Union during the U.S. Civil War; his sculpture was thrown into a Madison lake by protesters.
The original Forward statue was first placed in front of the Wisconsin State Capitol in 1895. Forward is “an allegory of devotion and progress,” according to the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Tuesday night’s violence drew the fury of the Republican leader of the state Assembly, who called the protesters who knocked down the statues “thugs.”
“This is absolutely despicable. I am saddened at the cowardice of Madison officials to deal with these thugs,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, tweeted as the statues were being torn down.
Vos also questioned why Gov. Tony Evers hadn’t intervened in the destruction of the statues, given it took place on state Capitol property. Protesters also broke windows of a state building near the Capitol which houses the state jobs agency, among other state offices.
Spokeswomen for Evers and Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway did not respond to questions late Tuesday about police force’s slow response.
After 1 a.m., a line of about 20 police officers stood in riot gear as a crowd of about 100 remained, breaking into occasional chants; police played a recording stating the gathering was unlawful and telling people to leave.
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