As racial tensions continue to escalate in the U.S., protests and demonstrations have taken on various forms. From peaceful gatherings in daylight to looting and riots after sundown, these varying methods of protesting has become a point of political division. As of late last month, this division is especially evident in Dane County.
Last month, Ald. Max Prestigiacomo, D-8, re-shared a flyer to his private Facebook page, which advertised a street demonstration in response to Jacob Blake’s fatal shooting in Kenosha. “Do what you want,” the flyer read. “F*** s*** up.”
Shortly after Prestigiacomo re-posted this flyer on his own Facebook timeline, a controversy unfolded in the comment section. According to the Wisconsin Street Journal, a resident was concerned to see an elected official promote violent protests, which raised the question as to what role elected officials should play in supporting such demonstrations.
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The online backlash Prestigiacomo faced, however, did not alter his stance on re-posting the graphic. Prestigiacomo explained why he chose to circulate this flyer.
“My duty, no matter what reaction I’m getting on Facebook [is] to uplift things that I think folks should hear,” Prestigiacomo said. “I feel like I have that duty. I’m sure people were really uncomfortable, and that was kind of the point.”
Prestigiacomo said communities disproportionately affected by institutional racism and violence should be entitled to protest in whichever way they deem fit.
Despite rising concerns about violence, about 93% of protests and demonstrations were peaceful, according to a U.S. Crisis Monitor report by Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project and Princeton University’s Bridging Divides Initiative.
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“With regards to our opinions as politicians and any privileged other person — I don’t think it’s our opinion,” Prestigiacomo said. “It’s not my place. I’m not impacted by what’s happening.”
Madison City Attorney Michael Haas was consulted for legal insights on Prestigiacomo’s Facebook post after a constituent claimed they were blocked online by Prestigiacomo when they commented in disagreement with the post.
Haas said the ambiguous part of situations like these is, when people post something online, it is difficult to know what they mean without any additional statements.
Haas said there can be possible differences in intentions when sharing a post on social media. Haas said that rather than encouraging violence, Prestigiacomo may have wanted to publicize the event and share it as a resource to those who may benefit from the information on the flyer.
“I’ve seen people post things on Facebook to expose what is happening, rather than to agree with what is happening,” Haas said.
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Upon hearing about the social media circumstances which developed with Prestigiacomo, Fitchburg City Ald. José Maldonado D-1 wrote a lengthy Facebook post which seemingly echoed the sentiments shared by Prestigiacomo.
Maldonado said he sympathizes with how Black and Brown communities protest police violence and systemic racism.
“[COVID-19] is only amplifying some of the issues that we already have,” Maldonado said. “I think that we, especially during this time, have to double down and commit to our investment in human beings, and the things that are going to make human beings thrive.”
Maldonado said he understands there is a reason why some protests were violent. Maldonado added everyone needs to continue to emphasize that human lives are more valuable than property, which he said is his core approach to the situation.
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In a blog post, Ald. Tag Evers D-13 said it is possible to be outraged by the shooting of Jacob Blake and oppose the destruction of property as “counter-productive.”
“I really can understand that there is a reason behind why [violence] has happened,” Maldonado said. “There’s a rage behind why this is happening, and we need to address the thing that’s actually causing it to happen.”