For the second night in a row, a protest in Madison against police violence Sunday night turned into a showdown between protesters and police. The event, which started peacefully, became more tense shortly after the city’s curfew went into effect at 9:30 p.m., according to several media reports as well as incident reports from the Madison Police Department.
A march around Capitol Square began around 6 p.m. and proceeded up and down State Street for several hours, according to the reports. The crowd grew to several hundred people and rocks were occasionally thrown at police, according to the incident report.
As 9:30 passed, marchers pressed on with a lap around the square, where a confrontation with police began on South Pinckney Street, according to the Cap Times.
What exactly happened and what started the unrest is unclear, but by the end, protesters had been chased up Wisconsin Avenue — by Madison police officers, Dane County Sheriff’s deputies and Wisconsin National Guardsmen in riot gear deploying tear gas — through the busy intersections of Johnson and Gorham streets.
According to the police department’s version of events, officers in regular uniforms were surrounded by protesters who started throwing things.
“Shortly before 10pm, the crowd surrounded a group of officers – in standard uniform – who had been observing,” the report states. “Projectiles were thrown at the officers, and one individual struck an officer in the face. Shortly after that, additional officers responded to the area and chemical agents were dispersed. Officers continued efforts to disperse the crowd, utilizing chemical agents. The group eventually scattered through the downtown area.”
But the Cap Times report is not so clear that protesters initiated the confrontation.
“A final lap of the Square was interrupted when protesters confronted police officers on South Pinckney Street, quickly followed by officers from behind the marchers firing tear gas,” the story states. “Reinforcements arrived in riot gear. What followed was a series of standoffs that included police officers and National Guard soldiers.”
Videos of the event posted on social media — with timestamps that match when the confrontation started and show protesters following the same path as reported in the Cap Times report — muddy the water even more.
In the videos, protesters aren’t surrounding officers and police continue firing tear gas even as those involved back away down Wisconsin Avenue.
The Sunday protest followed a similar pattern to events on Saturday, which began with peaceful protests, followed by vandalism and confrontation with police later.
Police said multiple stores in the State Street area were looted on Sunday and several officers were injured as a result of rocks and other projectiles being thrown. A total of 15 arrests were made, according to the incident report.
The protests, which are also happening elsewhere in Wisconsin and across the country, centered on the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died on Memorial Day after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes while Floyd was handcuffed on the ground.
Floyd’s death follows several other high-profile murders of black Americans in recent months. Ahmaud Arbery was chased and killed by a father and son in Brunswick, Georgia in an incident that was caught on video and went viral. Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by Louisville police officers executing a “no-knock” raid on her home.