Evers on Toppled Statues: ‘Nonsensical’
The empty pedestal after protesters took down the Forward statue on the grounds for the state Capitol June 24, 2020, in Madison, Wis. (Photo © Andy Manis)

Governor activates Wisconsin National Guard. Vos says no reform for months.

Standing in shattered glass in the damaged lobby of the Tommy G. Thompson state office building, Gov. Tony Evers told UpNorthNews the vandalism done by protesters Tuesday night “crosses a line,” and that nothing is gained by the toppling of two statues on the Capitol grounds that represent progressive values.

Roughly six hours later, Evers announced he had authorized the Wisconsin National Guard to support local law enforcement in Dane County in response to the civil unrest.  

“The protests in Madison last night resulted in serious injury to bystanders as well as significant damage to state property,” said Evers in a statement. “The Wisconsin National Guard will serve in a limited authorization meant to make sure people can exercise their First Amendment rights while ensuring the safety of members of the public and state buildings and infrastructure.”

The statues –”Forward,” a symbol of Wisconsin progress, and one honoring Civil War abolitionist Col. Hans Christian Heg who died during the fight to end slavery– were torn down late Tuesday night by a group of people who had been protesting since late afternoon. 

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers takes a tour of the Capitol grounds Wednesday morning. Protesters toppled the Forward statute. (Photo © Andy Manis)

“It crosses a line, clearly. We end up with a statue of an abolitionist in Lake Monona. Really? That is somehow advancing the cause of racial injustice? It just defies logic. So I understand people’s frustration, but in recent weeks the ability to do it peacefully and productively happened. This goes over the line.”

Evers confirmed both statues have been recovered.

Close to midnight, some of the protesters attacked Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, as he was taking video and photos of them. He was punched and kicked repeatedly.

“It’s disgusting,” Evers said, “and you know, property damage we don’t take lightly. Most importantly, what happened last night is no longer about people exercising their First Amendment rights. They were essentially bent on property damage and, frankly, human damage. Sen. (Tim) Carpenter got the living crap kicked out of him. And so this does nothing to help our country move forward or our state move forward around issues of race or anything else. This crosses a line, obviously.”

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers takes a tour of the Tommy G. Thompson state government building after protesters broke windows and took down statues. (Photo © Andy Manis)

Republican leaders of the Assembly held a press conference outside the Capitol Wednesday morning. They pointed to what they classified as a lack of leadership on the part of Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and Evers to not utilize the city or Capitol police departments more quickly to stop Tuesday night’s violence. 

“People are now looking at our capital city in shock and awe,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester. “That is something that never should be tolerated. It should never have gotten to this point.” 

Vos said he spoke with Black pastors from across the state Wednesday morning to ask how legislators can make the positive changes that the peaceful protesters have been asking for in the weeks since George Floyd’s death nearly one month ago.

He said one pastor told him that “every single person needs to be held accountable, no matter their skin color, no matter their job title.”

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, (center) addresses the media along with Majority Leader Jim Steineke, left, R-Kaukauna, and Speaker Pro Tempore Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, after protesters took down two statues Tuesday night on the grounds of the Capitol Square. (Photo © Andy Manis)

“That means if a police officer commits an injustice they need to be held accountable and put in jail for the crime they committed,” Vos said. “It also means that if a protester tears down a statue or attacks a state senator or goes and blocks traffic and attacks people in their vehicles they will be held accountable too.”

Evers said he had been having productive discussions with legislators, including majority Republicans, on a package of police reform bills he and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes introduced last Friday, but his hopes for reaching a compromise may have to outlast any GOP backlash to the protests.

“I’m fearful of that. We’ll see,” said Evers. “They’re open-minded good people, but when they have their offices smashed and windows broken, that’s going to color their conversations.”

Workers board up windows at the state Capitol Wednesday morning in Madison. (Photo © Andy Manis)

Vos and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R- Kaukauna, both emphasized they want to address the calls for action from the peaceful protesters but acknowledged the change will not happen overnight.

When asked specifically for a timeframe as to when demonstrators can expect lawmakers to return to the Capitol to debate the police reform bills, for example, Vos said it would likely not occur for several months.

“I think it is more realistic for us to look and see what the answers are and either come back right away in a special session after the election with the potential to come back in January or February,” Vos said. “I do not want to rush to pass one bill so we can just pose for pictures without having the systemic reform that needs to happen.”

Black men and women in Wisconsin face some of the worst disparities in education, poverty, income levels, incarceration and education in the country.

Vos said lawmakers need time to talk further with members of the faith and minority communities to find out “what the long-term reforms that people who are here peacefully demonstrating would like us to make.”

As for the decades’ worth of legislative action or inaction that have contributed to the numerous categories of disparities, Vos said he doesn’t want to point fingers but cited the push toward school choice and job training programs as ways Republicans have attempted to address disparities in education and income.  

“The school choice movement was started because people of color and their children were not getting the education they needed in MPS (Milwaukee Public Schools),” Vos said. “That’s why we have intense poverty. They don’t have the job skills that are necessary. Far too many people rely on public assistance to be able to afford their lives. We need to bring economic opportunity to communities and one way to do that is to have a great school system which is why we so strongly support school choice.”

School choice is a divisive, hot-button issue that cuts across party lines. 

In districts like Milwaukee and Racine — which host two of the state’s three voucher programs —  cuts to public school budgets to support the private, choice school system disproportionately affect students of color, who make up 89.9 percent and 61.5 percent of students in those districts, respectively, according to DPI data.

Evers said he was prepared to activate the Wisconsin National Guard to prevent further destruction to state buildings and infrastructure. He said the Capitol Police Department responded to attempts to breach the Capitol and were able to prevent additional penetration of the building. Additional resources from the Wisconsin State Patrol were also dispatched to provide support to the Madison Police Department, the governor said earlier in a statement.