Protesters allegedly attack state senator and topple statues outside Wisconsin State Capitol

The demonstrations in Madison followed the arrest of a Black protest organizer.

June 24, 2020, 10:58 AM

Turmoil unfolded outside the Wisconsin State Capitol on Tuesday night as protesters allegedly attacked a state senator, smashed windows and toppled two historic statues.

Demonstrations began in downtown Madison earlier Tuesday following the arrest of a Black protest organizer, who police say walked into a restaurant while speaking through a bullhorn and holding a baseball bat. Devonere Johnson, 28, was taken into custody Tuesday afternoon but allegedly broke free from the back of a squad car. He was tackled to the ground as he attempted to escape, according to the incident report from the Madison Police Department.

Two officers suffered minor injuries during the alleged incident, while Johnson sustained abrasions to his arms and leg. Johnson has been tentatively charged with disorderly conduct while armed, resisting arrest and attempted escape, police said.

That night, protesters chanting for Johnson's release tore down the "Forward" statue and dragged it away from its base at the steps of the Wisconsin State Capitol, according to Madison ABC affiliate WKOW. The bronze allegorical statue, which is more than 100 years old, depicts a female figure standing on the prow of a boat, with her right hand stretched out while her left clasps the American flag.

Dylan Brogan posted this image on Twitter on June 24, 2020.
Dylan Brogan/Isthmus Newspaper

A short time later, the same group pulled down a statue of Col. Hans Christian Heg from the Capitol grounds and threw it into a nearby lake, according to WKOW. Heg was a Norwegian immigrant and abolitionist who served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He led the predominately-Scandinavian 15th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment into battle against the Confederate Army until his death at Chickamauga in 1863.

The Madison Police Department confirmed in an incident report that a large group of people had removed both statues from Capitol grounds and caused damaged elsewhere. Windows were smashed at a number of buildings, including the Tommy G. Thompson Center, a state government office named after a Republican politician who served as governor of Wisconsin from 1987 to 2001. Windows were also broken at the City County Building and a Molotov cocktail was thrown inside, police said.

The group also attempted to force entry into the Wisconsin State Capitol. Authorities inside the building deployed pepper spray to stop the individuals from entering, police said.

Dylan Brogan posted this image on Twitter on June 24, 2020.
Dylan Brogan/Isthmus Newspaper

At some point during the night, WKOW's crew reportedly came across state Sen. Tim Carpenter who claimed he had been assaulted by protesters for taking a photo of them. Carpenter, a Democrat, then collapsed and the news crew called 911 for an ambulance. His condition was unknown, according to WKOW.

In response to a WKOW reporter's post on Twitter, Carpenter tweeted Wednesday morning about the alleged incident, saying he was punched and kicked in the head, neck and ribs by several people.

ABC News has reached out to Carpenter for comment as well as Wisconsin State Capitol Police.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers issued a statement Wednesday morning, saying the violence will not be tolerated.

"What happened in Madison last night presented a stark contrast from the peaceful protests we have seen across our state in recent weeks, including significant damage to state property," Evers said. "Any single act of injustice against one person is less justice for all of us, and the people who committed these acts of violence will be held accountable. My thoughts are with Sen. Carpenter who was among the individuals attacked last night and wish him a quick recovery."

Authorities are assessing the damage to state property and have recovered both of the toppled statues, according to Evers.

"We are prepared to activate the Wisconsin National Guard to protect state buildings and infrastructure," he added, "and are continuing to work with local law enforcement to understand their response to last night’s events and their plan to respond to similar events in the future."

PHOTO: The "Forward" statue that typically sits at the top of State Street outside the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison was torn down by  protesters, June, 23, 2020.
The "Forward" statue that typically sits at the top of State Street outside the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison was torn down by protesters, June, 23, 2020. Statue
Lawrence Andrea/Imagn via USA Today

The civil unrest comes on the heels of the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed and handcuffed Black man who died in Minneapolis on May 25 shortly after a white police officer was filmed kneeling on his neck as three other officers stood by. Demonstrations taking place across the United States and around the world are demanding police reform as well as an end to police brutality and racial injustice.

The protest movement has also called into question the appropriateness of a number of statues and monuments, specifically those depicting historical figures linked to racism, colonialism and slavery.

On Monday night, protesters tried to pull down a 168-year-old bronze equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson in a park near the White House in Washington, D.C. but police intervened. Jackson, a former U.S. Army general who served as the seventh president of the United States from 1829 to 1837, has long been criticized by Native American activists for his role in forcing indigenous tribes off their ancestral lands. Many of them died in the process.

Earlier this month, protesters in Virginia's capital tore down a statue of Jefferson Davis, who served as the president of the Confederate States of America from 1861 to 1865.