West Dayton Street outside of the Madison School District administration building became the latest field where protesters and city employees faced off in a battle of wills Friday morning.
The city’s Streets Division crew attempted to remove a mural on the road that read “Police free schools,” which was painted onto the asphalt by Madison youth in June, when a group of demonstrators arrived to protect the work.
The paint-removal process stopped partway through the “P” in “Police” due to concerns for the safety of both the city workers and the protesters, City of Madison streets and recycling coordinator Bryan Johnson said in a statement.
According to Johnson, the city wants to remove the painting on the street because it causes a traffic hazard by covering the double yellow traffic lines and obscuring the pedestrian crossings.
“It is already apparent that this will be an expensive project as removing paint from just one street is expected to cost approximately $8,000,” Johnson said. “The Streets Division will continue to work on ways to address safety issues in the areas where streets have been painted.”
Madison Deputy Mayor Katie Crawley said methods of keeping the city streets safe while compromising with the protesters will be revisited and discussed with city staff and others.
Starting this fall, the Madison School District will no longer station police officers at any of the city high schools after a unanimous vote by the School Board at the end of June to cancel its contract with the Madison Police Department. The motion went before the Madison City Council in July, which upheld the decision.
Local activist group Freedom Inc. had called for the removal of school resource officers, known as SROs, from Madison’s high schools for years, often by disrupting or shutting down School Board meetings.
But in recent months, in the wake of local and nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, activists amplified their demand that officers be removed from schools, by demonstrating in front of Madison School Board President Gloria Reyes’ home and painting “Police free schools” in giant yellow letters on West Dayton Street, among other actions.
Reyes said she initially planned to phase out the SRO contract over a longer period of time, but the community demanded faster action.
School Board members said they will form a subcommittee to develop an alternative safety plan that could be implemented by the fall, but no details were discussed when they voted to cancel the contract between the School District and Madison Police.
Road murals exist on two other streets in Madison’s Downtown, including one on Martin Luther King Boulevard that reads “Defund police,” organized by activist group Madison for Black Lives.