Peaceful protest for George Floyd followed by rioting, police crackdown on State Street.

As the sun set, shattered glass, riot police and tear gas blanketed State Street. Photo: Carla Christenson.
Listen to the audio version of this piece here, originally aired on 6/1/20.

Author: Sam Buisman

Peaceful protests on State Street over the death of George Floyd on the isthmus on Saturday escalated into rioting and a police crackdown.

Slightly after noon on Saturday, almost three thousand protestors marched from Library Mall to the Capitol demanding justice for George Floyd, a black Minnesotan killed while handcuffed with a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his neck.

Protesters marching near the Capitol. Photo: Carla Christenson.

While most of the protestors retired by 4:30 P.M., around 100 people lingering at the site attempted to incite rioting by looting State Street businesses after using things like skateboards and poles to shatter their windows. According to the Madison Police Department, a total of 75 State Street businesses were damaged.

This destructive turn prompted an aggressive response from Madison Police. Just before 6:00 P.M., police wearing riot gear advanced in a line down State Street from the Capitol Building in an attempt to disperse and control the protestors. Police launched tear gas at the protestors and clashed with those who refused to move.

However, unrest and destruction continued into the night, culminating in a Madison Police Squad Car being lit on fire around 10:00 P.M.

The MPD Squad Car burnt at the corner of Broom St. and University Ave. Photo: Carla Christenson

By 2:30 AM, law enforcement had quelled the riots and stabilized the area.

Police arrested a total of three people throughout the night and pledged to prosecute other violators.

City officials deplored the violence while voicing their support for the original protestors.

“This violence does nothing to support the interests of social justice, nor police and criminal justice reform,” said Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway in a press conference the following morning. “This conduct harms our community as we attempt to express our outrage and advocate for needed change.” 

Writing in a blog post, UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank mirrored this sentiment.

“I condemn this violence,” wrote the Chancellor. “It drowns out the message that needs to be heard and is likely to create backlash and more anger on all sides, rather than promote the changes that are needed.” 

The damage to State Street inspired a massive community rebuilding effort, with some protesters sweeping up broken glass at the scene and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dane County organizing over 3,000 volunteers to help clean up the next morning.

To prevent continued rioting, the City of Madison issued a curfew from 9:30 PM on Sunday to 5:00 AM on Monday for the downtown area, and Governor Tony Evers deployed the National Guard to the city. Yet, preliminary reports indicate protests continued Sunday night past the curfew.

WSUM will continue to follow this story and issue updates as they emerge.