Thousands Gather In Milwaukee On Fifth Day Of Black Lives Matter Protest

Madison Caravan Takes To Major Streets Tuesday

Demonstrators are met by Milwaukee Police after arriving at Milwaukee’s Police Department headquarters
Demonstrators are met by Milwaukee Police after arriving at Milwaukee’s Police Department headquarters downtown after a more than 6-mile march from Humboldt Park on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 2, 2020. Corrinne Hess/WPR

For a fifth day, Black Lives Matter demonstrators marched in Milwaukee demanding justice for George Floyd, a Minneapolis man killed by police while in custody, and Milwaukee resident Joel Acevedo, who died following a fight with an off-duty Milwaukee police officer.

Protests have been held nationwide and across Wisconsin, beginning Friday in Milwaukee and in Madison, Racine, Green Bay, Janesville, Eau Claire and other cities since Saturday.

While Floyd’s death sparked the movement, organizers and participants say centuries of systemic racism and continued instances of unarmed black people being harassed or victimized by law enforcement is what has prompted both sadness and outrage.

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The demonstration lasted hours, with marchers winding their way through the city’s streets, but by around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, police were reportedly using tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a crowd downtown.

Milwaukee Marchers Move Through The City

At 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, approximately 1,000 demonstrators met at Humboldt Park in Milwaukee’s predominately white Bay View neighborhood on the southeast side of the city for a “Justice for George Floyd Peaceful Protest.”

The group made signs until 1 p.m. when the speeches began and the more than 6-mile march north to Milwaukee’s Police Department headquarters building downtown kicked off.

Thousands joined in the march, including Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, which kept growing in size as people made their way closer to police headquarters.

“I think people are rightfully upset. I mean I’m rightfully upset at what I saw,” Barret said.

People chanted several phrases including “No justice, no peace,” “Say his name: George Floyd,” and “Black Lives Matter,” as they walked.

Charles Kuel lives Bay View. Kuel is black and said Tuesday’s march is his second protest this week. He called the largely white crowd “amazing.”

”This is about peace and this is about is about coming together and sticking together. So it doesn’t matter what race, black, white, Asian, you can be a part of it,” Kuel said.

Jerri Bosch, a youth minister at the Church of the Gesu at Marquette University’s campus, said she sympathizes with everyone’s frustration and was impressed with the turnout in Milwaukee on Tuesday.

“I hope this says something to our county officials, our state officials and our local officials,” Bosch said. “We need real change and actual promises and not just ‘black lives matter.’ I mean there is a pandemic and we are all out here risking our lives today.”

Protesters have marched across the city for hours each of the last four days. Protests have remained largely peaceful but have been followed by some looting and vandalism on multiple nights.

Numerous supporters Tuesday along the route cheered, handed out snacks and water, and used hoses to spray demonstrators in an effort to keep them cool on a day when temperatures were in the 80s and 90s.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett joins demonstrators
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, center, joined demonstrators Tuesday, June 2, 2020 as the group walked from Humboldt Park to Milwaukee’s Police Department headquarters downtown. Corrinne Hess/WPR

At about 2:45 p.m. the massive group arrived in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood, about 2 miles from police headquarters. There, people took a knee, chanting “George Floyd” and “Justice now.” And as they entered the Third Ward around 3:30 p.m., people chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has got to go.”

By 3:45 p.m., thousands of protesters arrived outside Milwaukee City Hall, chanting “I want to go home,” and holding signs that said “Black lives matter,” “No justice, no peace,” and “I can’t breathe,” Floyd’s final words to the Minneapolis police officer before he died.

A little after 4 p.m. — after more than three hours of walking — protesters arrived at Milwaukee Police Department headquarters, where officers were waiting. The crowd chanted for the officers to join them to take a knee. Five white officers did, posing for photos with two women of color.

Protesters chanted for the rest of the department to kneel, but other officers did not.

Nicole Amos, who has participated in all of the protests since Friday, said the kneeling officers were “performative.”

“I’ve seen this in Minneapolis,” she said. “They’ll take a knee and the next minute they’ll shoot teargas at someone. If they are out all day, cool. But taking a knee isn’t really doing anything for us. I want them to realize they are participating in a system that is killing black people and that is killing our press people. Period.”

Meanwhile during the afternoon, Barrett announced via press release there would not be a citywide curfew Tuesday night in Milwaukee.

“Last night we saw a notable reduction in illegal activity associated with public protests. I’m optimistic reduction will continue this evening,” Barrett wrote. “At this time, I’m not ordering a curfew for tonight, June 2. However, if conditions warrant, I will, on short notice, institute one.”

Shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday, protesters marched onto the on-ramp of Interstate 794 and shut down the Hoan Bridge for a time.

Around 7:30 p.m. police stopped marchers at the intersection of North 6th Street and West McKinley Avenue, using tear gas and rubber bullets. In a statement on Twitter, the Milwaukee Police Department said, protesters had “been ordered to disperse due to unlawful assembly after throwing rocks and glass at our officers. A suspect with a gun who was in the crowd has been taken into custody by MPD.”

Shortly after 9 p.m. MPD released another tweet saying Molotov cocktails had been thrown at police. The department later posted photos, clarifying that a protester threw one Molotov cocktail and it did not ignite.

Milwaukee County executive David Crowley thanked protesters Tuesday for making their voices heard, but local officials also asked them to be as careful as possible while demonstrating.

“While demonstration and expression and protest are a necessary and encouraged aspect of our democracy, it’s as important as ever to be safe and mindful of our ongoing pandemic,” said Dr. Ben Weston, director of medical services for the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.

It’s possible to protest safely by staying outside, continuously moving, wearing masks and social distancing when possible, he said.

In Milwaukee, nearly 1,000 people were tested for COVID-19 at community testing sites Monday. Dr. Jeanette Kowalik, commissioner of the city’s public health department, encouraged protesters to get tested at those sites if they start to feel sick, noting people of color have been disproportionately affected by the virus in Milwaukee County.

Caravan Rolls Through Madison

In Madison, people met around 1 p.m. for a gathering planned by nonprofit Freedom, Inc. at the Dane County Jail for a caravan of vehicles. People were asked to bring flowers, supplies to attach signs to vehicles, and “memorial images” for “Black people murdered by the police.”

While outside the jail, attendees called for the release of inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic and chanted “Free them all” before the caravan began.

Demonstrators met in Madison for a gathering planned by nonprofit Freedom, Inc.
Demonstrators met in Madison around 1 p.m. June 2, 2020, for a gathering planned by nonprofit Freedom, Inc. at the Dane County Jail for a caravan of vehicles. People were asked to bring flowers, supplies to attach signs to vehicles, and “memorial images” for “Black people murdered by the police.” Bridgit Bowden/WPR

The caravan zigzagged through downtown Madison before making its way on a major thoroughfare, John Nolen Drive, and then on to the Beltline, a major artery that runs from one side of Madison to another.

Some protesters couldn’t travel in the caravan and instead set out on foot.

Caravan participants were driving slowly in all lanes on the Beltline heading west in what appeared to be an attempt to slow traffic and draw attention to the signs hanging from vehicles.

For more than an hour traffic crawled on the highway, traveling about 12 miles to the Old Sauk Road Exit and stopping in from of Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney’s home shortly before 3:30 p.m. There, they placed signs that read “Free them all,” “Black lives matter,” “No justice, no peace,” and “Community control,” as well as flowers and printed pictures of Floyd.

Flowers, signs and pictures placed outside Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney's home
People participated in a caravan from the Dane County Jail to Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney’s home Tuesday, June 2, 2020. There, they placed signs that read “Free them all,” “Black lives matter,” “No justice, no peace,” and “Community control,” as well as flowers and printed pictures of George Floyd. Bridgit Bowden/WPR

After a short rendezvous at West Towne Mall a little after 4 p.m., organizers told those participating in the caravan to take the signs off of their cars and head home for the evening.

By around 6:30 p.m. at least 100 people had gathered on the grounds of the state Capitol, chanting and sharing pizza and water bottles that were being passed around. Despite periodic thunderstorms moving through the area, dozens of people remained as of 11 p.m., marching around the Capitol Square.

Governor Calls For Legislative Action

On Tuesday, Gov. Tony Evers called on the Legislature to pass Assembly Bill 1012 — relating to law enforcement agency policies on the use of force.

In a video message, Evers said “there was no empathy or humanity in George Floyd’s death, but there must be empathy and humanity in our response to it.”

“I am calling on the Legislature to immediately pass Assembly Bill 1012 that would reform our use of force policies by prioritizing preserving life and minimizing the use of force and send it to my desk for signature,” he continued. “This legislation is an important first step, but we know the solution to racism isn’t in one bill or one person. I know I don’t have all the answers–no one does. This is on all of us, together.”

Mayors in Milwaukee and Madison have put curfews in place for the last three nights, although protesters in both cities have not abided by the regulation.

During the day and through most of the nights, protests have remained peaceful; however, there have been incidents of looting, fires and broken windows in both cities.

Milwaukee police arrested more than 100 people over the weekend; Madison police arrested 15 people Sunday night.

Editor’s note: Corrinne Hess, Bridgit Bowden, Maureen McCollum, Megan Hart, Andrea Anderson and John K. Wilson contributed reporting to this story.