Author: Sam Buisman
Madison’s continuing protests for police reform took the form of a block party in their fifth night.
Roughly 500 protestors gathered in front of the Capitol Building around 9:00 P.M on Wednesday for a combined candlelight vigil and celebration of life for George Floyd and other black Americans killed by police. Somber speeches commemorating their lives and demanding change were followed by a night of music, dancing and food in honor of their memory and black culture at large.
For protestor Etrion Lanagan, the enthusiasm for this event was a cause for joy.
“Honestly, this right here is very beautiful,” said Lanagan. “I am glad to see that we have literally every single race here for one reason, and that’s to stop this police brutality.”
The evening featured a “Black Open Mic,” allowing any black attendee to sign up and address the crowd through the PA system. Presenters used their time to give rousing speeches, read poetry and perform original music.
Organizer Ayomi Obuseh said that she hoped this open mic and entire event would educate attendees to the black experience and inspire change.
“Everything that we’re doing right now is for a difference, it’s gonna make a change,” said Obuseh. “I just know it because of what we’ve done so far, that’s our history. “
Both the block party’s organizers and participants recognized that the gathering posed a risk of spreading COVID-19 but encouraged the wearing of masks and had medics on-sight to help preserve public health. Event organizer Marquese Lawrence said that he saw a double standard regarding these health concerns, especially considering the disparate impacts of COVID-19 on communities of color.
“I kind of don’t like how the media is spinning this into us minorities not understanding a pandemic that’s affecting us at a much higher rate than white people,” said Lawrence. “When white people were protesting haircuts, nobody was asking them any questions about that.”
Throughout the evening, there was a minimal presence from police or other law enforcement. No officers were on the scene until around 12:15 A.M., when a single officer nearby began checking IDs. According to a press release from the Madison Police Department, the MPD made two arrests Wednesday night related to graffiti but no arrests directly related to the gathering.
Organizers still took steps to protect participants from the violent policing tactics seen on Saturday and Sunday. Multiple times throughout the night, organizers directed white attendees to lock arms and form a perimeter around attendees of color to shield them with their bodies and privilege.
The party began to peter out as the early morning hours stretched on, concluding Madison’s fifth day of protests at around 3:30 A.M. on Thursday.