Businesses are back on edge after Tuesday’s violence

Does police reform have to mean ineffective policing?

That’s one of the many questions on the minds of Madison business owners and residents after another round of violence, this time at the state Capitol, in which protesters beat up State Sen. Tim Carpenter, tore down the revered “Forward” statue and that of a Union Civil War colonel who was a noted abolitionist, and set fire to a downtown building.

While the Capitol Police Department was able to prevent a breach of the Capitol building itself, the unrest around the Capitol Square not only led to statewide condemnation but forced Gov. Tony Evers to authorize the Wisconsin National Guard’s Quick Reaction Force to support local law enforcement.

And now, State Street business owners whose properties were subject to damage and looting during the first round of violent protests following the police-involved murder of George Floyd are reporting additional threats as Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway denies charges that she’s ordered Madison police to back off.

Addressing the public Wednesday, Rhodes-Conway drew a distinction between peaceful protests of recent cases of police brutality and what happened Tuesday evening in Downtown Madison, and she vowed to prosecute anyone involved in criminal conduct. “Thousands of people have come out in Madison and around Wisconsin to protest the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the many taken before them,” she stated. “I have heard from thousands of Madisonians in the past week, the vast majority of whom are supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement and the peaceful protests that have occurred in Madison.

“However, what happened last night in Madison was far from peaceful and exceeding dangerous. People attacked a state senator who championed workers’ rights in 2011, tore down a statue of an abolitionist who died trying to end slavery during the Civil War, and attempted to set fire to a building with dozens of people inside. We need to separate First Amendment protests from those engaged in criminal conduct. People engaged in violence and criminal conduct against people or property on the streets of Madison will be held accountable.”

State of fear

With regard to State Street, a man who allegedly made the threats was arrested Tuesday, but State Street merchants told the Wisconsin State Journal that the incident which sparked Tuesday’s violence — a case of alleged disorderly conduct that occurred at The Cooper’s Tavern at 20 W. Mifflin St. — was not just an isolated incident.

The tense situation is chasing away commerce and impacting the viability of Downtown businesses, according to Abdul Lababidi, the owner of Princess of India Imports, a clothing and jewelry store at 306 State St.

Lababidi says the situation is getting more scary, both in terms of public safety and his ability to succeed in business. “My customers, they call me, and they don’t want to come down to State Street anymore,” he told the State Journal. “I don’t know what we’re going to do. Business is very tough. Very tough.”

His views reflect growing public concern that something remains amiss as the National Guard has been called upon to handle a situation that got out of control.

As Madison’s reputation as a safe community takes another body blow, a number of ironies emerged from Tuesday night’s violence. In one incident, a 28-year-old African American man from Sun Prairie was beaten and robbed by a small group of protesters in Downtown Madison as he tried to drive around a demonstration. Although the man, who told the Wisconsin State Journal that he’s sympathetic to the cause of police reform, was punched and kicked while he was laying on the ground, his injuries are not life threatening,

Perhaps the greatest irony in Tuesday’s violence is that a statue of Col. Hans Christian Heg, an anti-slavery Norwegian immigrant who gave his life in service to the Union Army during the Civil War, was destroyed and thrown into Lake Monona by people who say they want racial justice. Apparently, they were unaware of the fact that Heg made the ultimate sacrifice toward that end more than 150 years ago.

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