Wednesday protest sees community leaders, activists split over tactics

MADISON (WKOW) -- Protesters marched downtown in large numbers for the third consecutive night Wednesday. Unlike Monday and Tuesday, the protests remained peaceful with organizers dismissing the crowd on Capitol square around 12:45 a.m. Thursday.

The protests have happened every night since Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back from close range as Blake tried to evade arrest during a domestic call.

"This is something bigger than ourselves," said Ayomi Obuseh, an organizer from the group Impact Demand, which organized Wednesday's march. "This is a revolution happening across the country and we should all be a part of it and doing our part and doing something."

Obuseh said she cannot control everyone at a protest but added she tries her best to keep Impact Demand events peaceful.

"Those rioters are mostly allies that are not with this cause. They'll start something and then they'll run away," Obuseh said. "We're trying to do something beautiful. Being Black is beautiful, therefore our movement has to be."

One day earlier, hours of peaceful protests, which included a march and vigil Tuesday around the Capitol Square, gave way to more property damage and vandalism early Wednesday morning. It was the exact scene Michael Johnson, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, was hoping to avoid by organizing a group of local officials to walk with the protesters and intercept any possible violence.

"This is not about protecting property over Black lives. That's such BS," Johnson said in an interview Wednesday. "This is about protecting our kids and our families. It's about protecting the fabric of our community."

Johnson walked and watched with a group that included former Madison mayor Paul Soglin, incoming and current state representatives Samba Baldeh and Shelia Stubbs, school board president Gloria Reyes, Alder Barbara McKinney, and City Council President Sheri Carter.

The demonstration remained peaceful as marchers moved from Library Mall down State Street to the Capitol steps. After midnight, a speaker told the crowd to stop recording with their phones to avoid producing evidence that could get people arrested if they chose to "turn up."

Shortly thereafter, those remaining in the group moved to the Dane County Courthouse where some in the group began throwing rocks at windows and set a small fire in the street.

The group then moved toward the intersection of University and Bassett, where rioters whipped bricks through windows and rolled a burning dumpster into the middle of the intersection.

"Those young people who were in those dark clothes yesterday just did not care," Johnson said. "I think those are the individuals that need to be arrested."

Freedom Inc. organized the vigil and march Tuesday night. Speakers told the crowd they would not criticize anyone in the crowd for their expressions of pain.

"When people set buildings on fire, I support any form and Freedom Inc. supports any form of expression of Black people expressing anger, hurt, and grief," said the organization's director of community building, Mahnker Dahnweih.

Protest Demands

Tuesday's vigil included a call for significant investment in Madison's Black community. Dahnweih said, to Freedom Inc., that means investing in housing, food, and healthcare security.

"The safest communities are the most well-resourced communities," Dahnweih said. "So when people have what they need -- when they have housing when they have healthcare, and when they have economic support, they're not doing all these forms of survival like stealing or getting into violence with each other."

Impact Demand organizers have told protesters at their events they should demand three specific things: passage of "Breonna's Law," which would ban the use of no-knock warrants, a "hands up" law requiring the immediate arrest of officers who shoot a person who was unarmed, and for Madison's under-construction civilian police oversight committee to have the final say over hiring the city's next police chief.

Obuseh said she is planning a trip to Washington DC to meet with other young activists from around the country to swap stories and share ideas.

"Protesting is great, being here is great and continue to do that but also make sure that you vote and pass legislation and do something beyond posting," Obuseh said. "Do something beyond writing something on social media because it takes everyone."

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