Timeline of protests in Madison

George Floyd's death on May 25 sparked protests in a number of U.S. cities.
A June 3 protest turned into a nighttime vigil that lasted until 3 a.m. at the Wisconsin State Capitol. Candles, flowers and other displays on capitol grounds honored Black people killed by police.
Photo by Nate Moll

Mon., May 25
George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, dies after a white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneels on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Three other officers keep bystanders from intervening in the arrest of the handcuffed Floyd.

Tues., May 26
The four Minneapolis police officers are fired. A widely shared video of the arrest — in which Floyd is heard repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe” — brings hundreds of protesters into the streets of Minneapolis. Some demonstrators cause property damage and police respond with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Fri., May 29
People in a growing number of U.S. cities begin protesting. Rioting breaks out in Milwaukee. Chauvin is arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Sat., May 30

police in riot gear

From late afternoon until midnight on May 30, Madison police officers in riot gear clashed with an estimated 150 protesters on State Street. The officers deployed tear gas as rocks, water bottles and restaurant patio chairs were hurled at them.

Photo by Nate Moll

Starting at noon on Madison’s Capitol Square, thousands of peaceful protesters gather and march around the Capitol, down East Washington Avenue and onto Williamson Street where Tony Robinson, an unarmed Black 19-year-old, was fatally shot by a Madison police officer in 2015. Sharon Irwin, Robinson’s grandmother, speaks at the event. By 4:30 p.m., after the crowd has largely dissipated, an estimated 150 people start clashing with police, mostly on State Street. Rocks, water bottles and restaurant patio chairs are thrown at officers who fire tear gas at the crowd. The windows of a University of Wisconsin–Madison Police Department squad car are smashed and a Madison Police car at Broom and Gorham streets is set on fire after two assault rifles inside the vehicle are stolen. Around 75 downtown businesses are damaged and/or looted. The confrontation ends around midnight with no arrests and two officers suffering minor injuries. Earlier that night, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and other community leaders denounce the people clashing with police by distinguishing between them and those who participated in the earlier protest. Gov. Tony Evers calls in 125 Wisconsin National Guard troops in Milwaukee. They are withdrawn on June 8.

Sun., May 31
Hundreds of people show up early in the morning to clean up State Street after widespread vandalism the night before. The day ends, however, with a second night of confrontation between protesters and police, who are joined by National Guard troops. Police deploy pepper spray, tear gas and sponge-tipped rounds. Madison police say there was an attempted theft of a squad car and several State Street stores were looted. Fifteen people are arrested, including one looter carrying a handgun. Several city alders call the police response “a gross and unnecessary display of force that deepens community divide and mistrust of the city and other bodies of government.”

Mon., June 1

forward statue covered in paint

“Forward,” the 7-foot bronze statue of a woman representing devotion and progress, stands defaced on Capitol Square at the top of State Street with “BLM,” the abbreviation of Black Lives Matter. Three weeks later, on June 23, protesters pull down the statue and another on the Square of abolitionist and Union Army Col. Hans Christian Heg. (Photo by Nate Moll)

Hundreds of demonstrators, who had rallied at police headquarters downtown, block traffic on John Nolen Drive for several hours. The organizers — Freedom Inc., Urban Triage Inc. and the local chapter of the Party for Socialism and Liberation — call for defunding the police, releasing jailed Black people and community control over policing. Mayor Rhodes-Conway, addressing the protesters, says she had asked protest organizers to help establish a police oversight commission. Several people loudly ask her why Madison police officer Matt Kenny, who shot and killed Tony Robinson in 2015, was still on the force. “Fire Matt Kenny,” the protesters chant. “It is not under my power to fire a police officer,” Rhodes-Conway tells the protesters. “That power belongs to the police and fire commission alone.” Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne had deemed the shooting of Robinson to be lawful and an internal investigation had found that Kenny had followed department policy. At 7:45 p.m., the large group of protesters marches down John Nolen Drive to the central district police station and then down State Street. Shortly before the 9:30 p.m. curfew, the crowd returns to the Capitol. The next day Acting Madison Police Chief Victor Wahl writes in a blog post that a small group on State Street engaged in vandalism and violence and threw rocks at police. Wahl says two people were attacked with a crowbar and one person fired a gun in the air.

Tues., June 2
Rhodes-Conway pleads in a June 2 statement for the nighttime demonstrations to end. “I do not want legitimate protests to continue to provide cover for this violent, unacceptable behavior,” the mayor says. Still, hundreds of peaceful protesters show up. Michael Johnson, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County, kneels with police officers and city officials. Rhodes-Conway, state Rep. Shelia Stubbs, Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education President Gloria Reyes, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney and Wahl all appear at the protest. Organizers announced the formation of a peacekeeping team to help keep order during protests. Between May 30 and June 2, Madison police make 39 arrests.

Wed., June 3
Police strike teams stand ready in tactical gear inside the City-County Building and at the Capitol, but for a third consecutive night they do not engage with protesters. Isthmus reports that young protest organizers had “become more disciplined and better able to manage the crowd.” Until 3 a.m., Black youth take turns at a mic to provide testimonials, deliver spoken word poetry and sing while urging peace, unity and law enforcement reform. About 200 demonstrators coalesce around a candlelight memorial on Capitol Square for the victims of police killings.

Thurs., June 4
Freedom Inc. leads a 200-plus car caravan to the home of Reyes and demands the removal of police officers from public schools.

Fri., June 5
At James Madison Park, Freedom Inc. celebrates what would have been the 27th birthday of Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot in her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment by city police officers issuing a no-knock search warrant around midnight on March 13. The officers had exchanged gunfire with Taylor’s boyfriend, who thought the police were intruders.

Sun., June 7

Rev Everett Mitchell speaking in a microphone

The Honorable Rev. Everett Mitchell, a Dane County Circuit Court Judge, addressed the crowd. (Photo by Shalicia Johnson)

Photo by Shalicia Johnson

The African American Council of Churches organizes a Black Lives Matter Solidarity March to the Capitol from Bethel Lutheran Church. Thousands of people take part.

Mon., June 8

Defund Police painted to the Capitol

On June 8, “DEFUND POLICE” is painted in huge yellow letters on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in front of the City-County Building. The demand is made by demonstrators across the U.S. to redirect resources to underfunded social programs that could benefit minority communities. (Photo by Nate Moll)

In huge yellow letters, protesters paint “DEFUND POLICE” in front of the City-County Building on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. In an open letter to Reyes, Freedom Inc. demands an end to a contract assigning police officers to schools. A week earlier, the Minneapolis School District terminated its contract with that city’s police department.

Tues., June 9
In a reversal of her previous position, Reyes recommends a “strategy of options to remove school resource officers [SROs] from our school buildings.” Madison Teachers Inc., the union representing MMSD teachers, also calls for police to be removed from schools in favor of more school counselors, social workers and other support staff.

Fri., June 12

speakers at pride for black lives march event

On June 12, a Pride for Black Lives March, recognizing the rights of LGBTQ+ and Black citizens, takes place on Capitol Square. (Photo by Nate Moll)

Photo by Nate Moll

A Pride for Black Lives March, recognizing the rights of LGBTQ+ Black citizens, takes place on Capitol Square. A Change.org petition to “Defund the Police! Invest in the Community!” is posted and received 4,904 signatures as of July 13.

Tues., June 16
In large yellow letters, young people paint the words “POLICE-FREE SCHOOLS” in front of the MMSD administration building. The Madison City Council votes to increase police oversight by creating the position of an independent police monitor and establishing a civilian oversight board for the police department. The council also votes unanimously against allowing the police department to spend $50,000 on projectile launchers like the kind used against protesters on May 30 and 31.

Sat., June 19
Hundreds of Madison residents in Olin Park celebrate Juneteenth, marking June 19, 1865, when Black slaves were freed in Texas, about two years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The daytime rally at the park includes picnicking, speakers, voter registration, T-shirt making and yoga classes. That night, people marched from Olin Park to the Dane County Public Safety Building on South Carroll Street to demand the release of inmates at risk of contracting COVID-19 in the jail.

Tues., June 23

empty spot for statue in front of the capitol

Spot where “Forward” used to be.

As many as 300 protesters decry the arrest of a Black activist earlier in the day. They block several downtown streets and, using chains, tear down two statues on Capitol Square — “Forward,” a cast of a woman representing devotion and progress, and one of Hans Christian Heg, a Norwegian immigrant, abolitionist and Union colonel who died in the Civil War. The Heg statue was beheaded and dragged into Lake Monona but later recovered. State Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, is punched and kicked by protesters objecting to his filming them. A Molotov cocktail is thrown through a window of the City-County building starting a small fire. State Capitol windows and lights are broken. Protesters initially gather outside the Dane County Jail, where activist Devonere Johnson (who identifies himself as Yeshua Musa) is held after his arrest earlier that day outside Coopers Tavern which he allegedly entered carrying a baseball bat and bullhorn. He and two other men also face felony charges of threatening to injure a person if they were not given money and food. Johnson is also charged with a federal offense of extortion. Video of Johnson’s arrest, released by Madison police, shows several officers struggling to detain him.

Mon., June 29
The Madison School Board votes unanimously to end its contract with the Madison Police Department. When school begins this fall, school resource officers, or SROs, will no longer be present in Madison’s four main high schools. Reyes, a former police officer, initially wanted to phase out the SRO contract, but stated during the school board meeting that the time had come “to reassess and change direction” in accordance with “the will of the people.”

Tues., June 30
Michael Johnson, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, proposes a statue of Vel Phillips be erected on the grounds of the state Capitol. Phillips, who was 94 when she died in 2018, was the first Black woman in the U.S. to win a statewide office when she was elected Wisconsin secretary of state in 1979. She was also the first Black woman to graduate from UW Law School, serve on the Milwaukee City Council and become a judge in the state.

Mon., July 6
“DEFEND BLACK WOMXN” is painted overnight on Doty Street in large yellow letters. The project organized by Freedom Inc. highlights the group’s successful efforts to raise almost $500,000 to bail out Black women from the Dane County Jail. Freedom Inc. also advocates for increasing funding for sexual assault resources.

Read more of the August cover story here.