By Adam Kelnhofer and WisPolitics.com staff
Gov. Tony Evers today activated 125 members of the Wisconsin National Guard to support local law enforcement in the wake of Milwaukee protests that turned violent overnight.
A statement from Evers said he made the order at the request of local officials.
“It is critical that people are able to peacefully express their anger and frustration about systemic racism and injustice, in Milwaukee, the State of Wisconsin, and our Nation,” Evers, Milwaukee County Exec David Crowley and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said in a joint statement. “This limited authorization of citizen soldiers from the Wisconsin National Guard will help protect people who are exercising their First Amendment rights and ensure the safety of the public.”
Not long after Evers called up the Gaurd, Barrett during a press conference announced a curfew in the city beginning at 9 p.m. that applies to all people except for government, social services, and credentialed press.
Protests turned violent as Milwaukee police officers and Sheriff’s deputies clashed with protestors late Friday night after protesters led a march through the city.
Following peaceful protests earlier in the day against the police-involved killings, a 38-year-old Milwaukee police officer was shot and more than a dozen businesses, including a Walgreens and cellphone store, were damaged. Some were looted.
The officer, a four-year veteran of the force, was treated and released from a local hospital for “minor injuries,” according to the Milwaukee Police Department.
The department said approximately 50 people were arrested.
Meanwhile in Madison, the Madison Police Department reported groups of people breaking windows and entering businesses in the State Street area this evening following an afternoon protest. Local media reported police used tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales condemned the violence in a statement posted to Twitter, saying that after a peaceful protests, many “used this as an opportunity to damage property, destroy businesses, commit robbery, fire shots, and steal property for their personal gain.”
Earlier in the day, hundreds of protesters peacefully gathered outside the Wisconsin Black Historical Society to voice their anger at police violence against people of color, sparked by the killing of George Floyd in neighboring Minnesota this week and Joel Acevedo in Milwaukee in April.
Passing cars honked in support as protesters chanted “No justice, no peace!”
Protesters gathered for roughly an hour in a circle around local community activists who demanded changes in police protocols for detaining suspects, changes in legislation and supporting activism from all members of Milwaukee, not just the 15th Aldermanic District the protests started in.
The group eventually made its way to the Milwaukee County Courthouse, where multiple protesters were detained, but only one was arrested after the group blocked I-43 northbound traffic between North Avenue and Mckinley Avenue.
After returning to the Wisconsin Black Historical Society, protesters drove to 45th Street and Cleveland Avenue to show support for the family of Joel Acevedo, who died due to injuries sustained after being restrained in a chokehold by off-duty police officer Michael Mattioli during a fight at Mattioli’s house. Mattioli has since been charged with reckless homicide, but has not yet been fired from the force.
Several community activists and leaders gathered to demand Mattioli be fired.
Morales, in a statement before the protests, expressed condolences to the Acevedo family and noted the Fire and Police Commission is the only body with the authority to fire Mattioli. He urged people to protest peacefully.
In a separate video, Barrett, Common Council President Cavalier Johnson, Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik and Morales urged peaceful and safe protest.
“The horrific murder of George Floyd that America witnessed is shocking, undefendable and unjustifiable,” Barrett said. “It underscores the very serious challenges we face in combating racism in America.”
He added that he shares in the outrage, but “at the same time, we as Milwaukeeans must remember that we can never let violence beget violence; That does not solve our problems.”
Eastern District U.S. Attorney Matthew Krueger also condemned the violence and warned that federal law “imposes stiff penalties for commercial arson and other crimes.”
Such violence and property damage accomplish nothing and instead only create more victims,” he said. “Although we respect the rights of all to express their concerns peaceably, federal law enforcement is joined with state and local authorities to address further violence.”
Note: This story has been updated at 6:46 p.m. Saturday to reflect development in Madison.
Photos by Adam Kelnhofer