The brutal killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 sparked an initial rebellion in the Twin Cities that included protesting the police, and looting and setting fire to businesses (and Minneapolis’ 3rd Police Precinct). Cities across the country have followed in the Twin Cities’ footsteps to protest an oppressive social order upheld by the violence that police officers incite, predominantly against black people. Madison joined these ranks on Saturday, May 30 to protest and express solidarity with the community in the Twin Cities mourning George Floyd’s death, the community in Louisville mourning Breonna Taylor’s death on March 13, the community in Atlanta mourning Ahmaud Arbery’s death on February 23, and countless other murders due to police brutality, and to look back on Madison’s own fatal loss—the killing of Tony Robinson on March 6, 2015. The accounts below that we’re featuring are from protesters and activists who attended the events on May 30.
“A lot of people were helping each other”
By Stef H.
I met with a comrade at State and Gilman at about 6:30 p.m. on May 30. They asked if I could stay and help with the medic effort for a bit, so we threw the water I brought into the car and got up to the top of state street. When we arrived there was a line of cops at the top of State Street, and where it opens up onto the Square were several hundred people. A smaller group was closer to the cops, throwing mostly insults but occasionally bottles, maybe rocks, which would often escalate into more bottle-throwing and people getting closer to the line of cops.
I’m not sure how many times tear gas canisters were thrown—over the next two hours maybe at least 10 times and there were a few specific instances of people getting pepper sprayed as well. The crowd was mostly younger people, but really diverse racially and gender-wise. Same with the smaller group right up close to the police—more masculine and younger-looking people but I’d say a pretty solid mix of age, race, gender.
We had set up a medic station first on Carroll and then moved it up onto the capitol steps once it was clear that the action was moving up that way. We worked in pairs, trying to get the word out about the medic station. We were mostly trying to stay out of the reach of the potential tear gas fumes but once one would go off we would get to the area as quickly as we could to help people with eye flushes.
The entire time I was there, which was from about 7:00 p.m. to 10:30 or 11:00, the [protesters’] efforts were directed at police. It was definitely not organized—people were moving barricades/fences, first toward the police, then in other directions, and I’m not sure what the intent was. At one point some people rolled out two empty dumpsters from behind the Concourse Hotel, but the idea of using them was shut down as it was deemed not useful. I was standing with another volunteer/not trained medics and they wondered why people weren’t trying to take the capitol, I think in reference to the 2011 protests, but it was clear that the anger and action was directed completely at the police who were protecting State Street, which was also very clear.
While I was at the top of State Street, I didn’t see vandalism or damage to storefronts, city property, etc. I’m not saying this didn’t happen but at that time at that location, I saw a full-frontal offensive on the police. I am sure there were people there not invested in the rationale of the riot but given the constant verbal offensive being put forward toward the cops, I personally didn’t hear or see anything that made me think otherwise. At one point a line of all female police marched out and the number of female voices I heard referring to “those bitches” was impressive; I noted that generally that word would really trigger me—but not so much here.
A lot of people were spectators: someone might yell, “they’re smashing a cop car over there”, and 50 people would gallop down the street to watch. Also, A LOT of people were helping each other, providing material and emotional support. As time went on I would rush over to a person who had been in direct line of gas and there would be two to four other people already offering water, milk, etc. Echoing others, I felt safe in the crowd (minus the whole pandemic thing, which I’m still just feeling high high anxiety about).
Toward the end of my time there, once the tear gassing at the top of State Street had let up and the crowd was decreasing and many of the medics had left, Scot and I walked around a little and then he walked with me back to my car. We stood next to a line of cops blocking State Street at Fairchild where a few people were standing there hurling insults. One young black man stood there and yelled at the line of cops, “How many of you grew up here? Who grew up here? Nod if you grew up in Madison!”
Cops Protect Property, Not People
By Tessa E.
My day downtown started at 11:30 a.m., meeting up with other medics and protester safety team members. I know as a light-skinned person, my place in this fight is to be present and be a shield for black people. I had my water bottles ready, and a simple first aid; I know personally from past experiences that cops don’t generally help–but hurt–protesters and someone needs to be there. During the day as we marched around the Capitol and then down East Wash, I saw a crowd that wanted change, and a crowd that has been here before. It especially hit home when we marched to Tony Robinson’s home and the place where he was murdered by a Madison police officer, one that is still on the force today.
And I felt the anger at a system that continues to value property over life, white life over black and brown life. I was generally standing on the edge of the protest, watching to see if anyone needed help.
There, I saw a car peel out and hit three protesters standing on Willy Street. The cops did nothing but get the white woman and car safely away from us.
The police pulled aside a young black man out of the crowd to search randomly; luckily a group saw, filmed and circled the cops, and the man was released.
The official rally ended at the Capitol building at 4:30 p.m., and most of the crowds started wandering home; even still, I was worried that these peaceful protesters would not make it home safe from police harassment. We should all know by now that a black person doesn’t have to do anything to get killed by the cops.
I went home then, had dinner and then got a call that things were picking up downtown. I grabbed my bag and drove over, getting to the top of State Street at about 6:00 pm. I ran up and immediately got hit with a cloud of tear gas. I spent the next few hours running between a water station and protesters, washing people’s eyes and checking that no one was hurt. As I washed out one woman’s eye’s who had been on the front line with the cops, she said, “They blind you how you are supposed to run away?” The police created an unsafe environment by shooting tear gas into crowds of people to run and trip over each other.
When I stood there watching the protest advance I was again afraid, not of the protests but of what the police would do. I care a lot more about human life then any amount of property, and I think that people have a right to be angry and to take that anger to the streets. I stand behind the actions that took place last night. People have been dying by the hands of the police and things aren’t changing. We have to fight to make that change and what I saw last night was about fighting a system of oppression and racism.
I saw a crowd of people pushed against the wall of racism with no other way to express their anger at a system that kills black people daily. But I also saw a crowd that took care of each other the best they knew how. And I saw a police force that was violent and uncaring to the people it should be protecting. In the middle of that afternoon, while standing near a cop, I heard a person ask if that cop was there to protect people or property; the cop responded “people”, but as the night went on their actions showed it was property, not people, that they cared about.
May 30th Protest: Remembering George Floyd, Tony Robinson, and Others
By Hayley A.
I participated in the day’s larger protest as it moved from the Capitol area to the Police Department Building on Doty Street, down East Washington Avenue, to Tony Robinson’s home, and I split off on its return trip when it reached East Washington again. After a brief trip home to eat, I returned with water bottles when I learned the police were launching teargas at the smaller group of protesters on State Street.
When I arrived at State Street (up from E. Gorham), I saw several police department SUVs and police officers in riot gear blocking the sidewalks and street. They blocked about a dozen or so people from getting to the top of State Street. On the other side of the police officers were about a dozen (mostly white) protesters on their knees with their hands up. Behind them was a makeshift barricade-type structure from construction site fences that protesters had dragged over. Around and behind this fence was about (I believe) 30-50 people yelling and protesting the police. This was a standoff. Behind them and up to the Capitol steps were more people, including protesters, street medics, bystanders, and some white frat-types standing back and mocking or criticizing the protesters quietly.
Over the course of the next few hours at the top of State Street, police officers blasted sound cannons, launched cans of teargas, and sprayed pepper spray directly on protesters. The police held the line they’d made and did not advance in any time that I was present, which was from about 7:00-9:30 p.m. I was not in the standoff, but was working with the medic team flushing teargas from civilians’ eyes. Protesters threw rocks, bottles of water, gallons of milk, and a construction cone at the police line. A protester who came from Milwaukee was shouting to us how “soft” the Madison police were compared to the Milwaukee Police Department. A young Black protester ran back from the fences to the white frat-types and criticized them for watching and doing nothing. Scattered yelling condensed into collective chanting “Black lives matter!”, “Fuck the police!”, and “Justice for George!” throughout the evening.
We started hearing that the police were going to advance and round people up for arrest at 9:30 p.m.. I left the scene at 9:30 to avoid arrest.