Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday stood by his decision to authorize the deployment of National Guard troops in response to Wisconsin protests against the police killing of George Floyd as a way to discourage the looting and other unrest that occurred following the largely peaceful demonstrations.
At the request of the city of Madison, Evers this week deployed between 100 and 200 Wisconsin National Guard troops to assist Madison police after violence and looting broke out in Downtown Madison after Saturday’s peaceful protests. The National Guard also has assisted law enforcement efforts to address civil unrest in Milwaukee and Kenosha.
Violence and looting also occurred after peaceful demonstrations in Madison on Sunday and Monday, but the protest was peaceful Wednesday night, when there were no police officers visible around Capitol Square.
“(The National Guard) would be used to primarily be stationed to protect property such as the Capitol in Madison and other state office buildings, and also in Milwaukee to protect water utilities as well as other cultural places,” Evers told reporters during a media call. “And they did that well. And so the Guard, I think, has done exactly what we asked them to do.”
Protesters across the nation have drawn attention to Floyd, who died May 25 after Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck as Floyd cried, “I can’t breathe.” On Monday, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office declared the death a homicide.
During some of this week’s protests, law enforcement dispersed protesters, some of whom had turned violent, with chemical agents. Other protesters hit by the spray did not appear to be doing anything to provoke law enforcement.
Madison police said protesters had become violent, throwing rocks at them and assaulting an officer.
Evers’ comments come as some protesters and observers nationwide have condemned the looting and violence outright, while others have said they understand the protesters’ rage. Evers’ support for using the National Guard to help law enforcement also comes after he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel earlier this week that he disapproved of President Donald Trump having police disperse peaceful protesters with chemical agents so he could pose with a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.
He also condemned the looting that has occurred in Madison and Milwaukee and said it wasn’t helpful to the protesters’ cause.
“I’ve never supported law breaking and I never will, that’s part of my job to make sure that laws are followed,” Evers said. “But yes, it is important to make sure that things are done lawfully. First Amendment rights are not to be trampled in this state or any other state, and for those who decide to do damage, they’re damaging the First Amendment. They’re damaging the opportunity for thousands of people across Wisconsin to exercise that First Amendment right.”
Evers said he supports the peaceful protests and encourages people to get outside and exercise their rights despite the continued prevalence of COVID-19 in the state. State health officials during a Wednesday media call urged people to wear masks while in public, including at protests.
On Thursday, the Department of Health Services reported an increase of 492 positive COVID-19 cases, bringing the total up to 19,892, with 4% of total daily tests coming back positive.
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