Over 2,000 people gathered on the steps of Madison’s capitol Saturday afternoon to protest the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by police in Minneapolis.
Protestors carried signs that read, “I can’t breathe” and “We want change, not just justice!” while volunteers distributed water and snacks to those in attendance.
Brandi Grayson, founder and CEO of Urban Triage, a community nonprofit working to empower Black community members, began the protest by asking participants to donate to the Freedom Fund, an organization using donations to bail protestors out of jail.
Grayson said these funds are necessary to support protestors taking action across the country.
“We’re out here because we saw a Black man take his last breath, we’re out here because we witnessed his soul leaving his body,” Grayson said. “Our people are being arrested and slaughtered for our country right now in Atlanta, in Washington, in Minnesota.”
These protests began in Minneapolis and have spread across the nation, including to Milwaukee where a police officer suffered a minor injury after being shot, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Shortly after Madison’s protest began, members of the University of Wisconsin’s Student Inclusion Coalition marched down State Street, joining those at the Capitol.
SIC members held a banner that read, “Community control over police.”
Another speaker, Robert Robinson, laid upon the Capitol steps, demonstrating how Floyd was pinned to the ground before he died. Robinson said that he had been handled by police similarly years ago.
Protestors then marched to the Dane County Jail. The protest’s Facebook page stated that this trajectory was in protest of the disproportionate amount of Black people incarcerated in Dane County and the unsafe conditions within jails inlight of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Participants chanted throughout the march, saying, “No justice, no peace, no racist ass police,” “Black lives matter,” and “We are revolutionaries.”
Once the march returned to the Capitol, some protestors continued to Williamson Street where Tony Robinson, a Black teenager who was killed by police in 2015.
Other protestors returned to the steps of the Capitol where anyone was welcome to speak.
While most protestors had left the area by a little after 4 p.m., a separate group began looting businesses along State Street around 6 p.m.
This crowd also gathered at the top of State Street where police quickly established a barricade. Protestors chanted, “Hands up, don’t shoot” and knelt before the police with their arms raised.
Initially, the crowd largely held their ground as police attempted to push them off of State Street, though throughout the evening they were forced towards Library Mall.
While protestors threw rocks and water bottles, police deployed tear gas into the crowd repeatedly.
Many protestors distributed milk and water to those injured by the gas. Some protestors began repairing the damage done by looters while the protest was still occurring, shoveling up broken glass and righting toppled planters.
A handful of fires were started up and down State Street throughout the night. A police car was set aflame and later exploded, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
By about 2:30 a.m., the crowds had largely dispersed, according to a UW WiscAlert. At 11:30 p.m. Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway declared a state of emergency and a curfew, beginning 12:01 Sunday morning.
“I do not take this action lightly, and I want to be clear that this is in response to a number of people endangering themselves and others by shattering glass, destroying property, and engaging in widespread, systematic looting of local businesses,” Rhodes-Conway said. “This is NOT in response to the peaceful and legitimate protests that took place earlier today.”
Sunday morning the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dane County hosted a State Street cleanup where, according to their Facebook, over 3,000 people volunteered. They also started a downtown emergency relief fund that has already surpassed its $100,000 goal.