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Madison protesters tear down Capitol statues, attack state senator from Milwaukee as fury erupts again

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MADISON, Wis. — Fury exploded outside the Wisconsin State Capitol on Tuesday night as protesters smashed windows at the statehouse, attacked a state senator, and tore down two statues — including one of an abolitionist who died trying to end slavery during the Civil War.

The unrest began earlier Tuesday after a Black man was arrested after bringing a megaphone and a baseball bat into a Capitol square restaurant. It followed weeks of mostly peaceful protests of the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a white police officer.

It prompted Gov. Tony Evers on Wednesday to put the Wisconsin National Guard on notice to protect state buildings, including the Capitol.

During the melee late Tuesday, Democratic state Sen. Tim Carpenter was assaulted after taking a photo of protesters.

"I don't know what happened ... all I did was stop and take a picture ... and the next thing I'm getting five-six punches, getting kicked in the head," Carpenter told a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter after the assault.

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Evers said those responsible for assaulting Carpenter would be held accountable.

"I want to be clear: violence against any person — whether in the middle of the street in broad daylight, at home trying to sleep, going for a run, or happening upon a protest as was the case last night — is wrong," he said in a statement. "It should never be tolerated."

Protesters, chanting for the release of the man who'd been arrested earlier, also broke glass at the Tommy Thompson Center and smashed windows at the Dane County Jail and at the state Capitol before police arrived just before 1 a.m.

The violent demonstrations followed the arrest of Devonere Johnson by Madison police officers after Johnson brought a bullhorn and baseball bat into Cooper's Tavern, a restaurant on the Capitol square.

"Officers attempted to place him under arrest for his actions inside the restaurant," the Madison police officers wrote in a report. "Johnson resisted arrest and struggled with officers ... Johnson was able to push past officers and escape from the squad car before being tackled as he attempted to escape."

The destruction followed similar incidents in cities nationwide following the death of Floyd in Minneapolis. But in other cities, statues of Confederate soldiers and other symbols of slavery were destroyed.

In Madison, statues of Wisconsin's motto "Forward" and Col. Christian Heg were dragged away from their spots guarding the statehouse.

Heg was an anti-slavery activist who fought and died for the Union during the U.S. Civil War. His nearly 100-year-old sculpture was decapitated and thrown into a Madison lake by protesters.

The original Forward statue was first placed in front of the Wisconsin State Capitol in 1895. Protesters tore down a replica that was commissioned in the 1990s. Forward is "an allegory of devotion and progress," according to the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Madison Police Department said 200 to 300 protesters were within the crowd that ultimately became violent.

The "Forward" statue that typically sits at the top of State Street outside of the Wisconsin State Capitol was torn down Tuesday by protesters.
The "Forward" statue that typically sits at the top of State Street outside of the Wisconsin State Capitol was torn down Tuesday by protesters.

The group first entered a private condo building in Madison and surrounded a tow truck, forcing the owner to abandon the vehicle before smashing windows and tearing down the Capitol statues.

Police used pepper spray from inside the state Capitol to repel protesters trying to get into the building, according to Madison police.

Tuesday night's violence drew the fury of the Republican leader of the state Assembly, who called the protesters who knocked down the statues "thugs."

"This is absolutely despicable. I am saddened at the cowardice of Madison officials to deal with these thugs," Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, tweeted as the statues were being torn down.

Vos also questioned why Evers hadn't intervened in the destruction of the statues, given it took place on state Capitol property. Protesters also broke windows of a state building near the Capitol which houses the state jobs agency, among other state offices.

Spokeswomen for Evers and Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway did not respond to questions late Tuesday about police force's slow response.

After 1 a.m., a line of about 20 police officers stood in riot gear as a crowd of about 100 remained, breaking into occasional chants; police played a recording stating the gathering was unlawful and telling people to leave.

Follow Molly Beck and Lawrence Andrea on Twitter: @MollyBeck and @lawrencegandrea

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Madison protesters pull down Forward, Hans Christian Heg statues

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