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Groups shut down Beltline, weather storm to protest George Floyd's death
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Groups shut down Beltline, weather storm to protest George Floyd's death

From the Pain and protest: Madison responds to the police killing of George Floyd series

A downpour briefly halted a Downtown Madison protest Tuesday night against George Floyd's death but hundreds later marched in the rain, following daytime demonstrations that shut down traffic on the Beltline and John Nolen Drive.

“The rain won’t stop us,” protesters chanted. “Enough is enough.”

Around 9 p.m., as a storm that caused power outrages throughout the state hit Madison, protesters sheltered as much as possible near the Capitol. Half an hour later — when the city's official curfew began — hundreds of chanting protesters regrouped, dancing in damp ponchos and marching around the Capitol.

Many protesters remained in the area even as powerful winds whipped up and a severe thunderstorm warning went into effect around 8:30 p.m., with the Madison Fire Department advising them to take shelter.

As of midnight, when the nighttime gathering around the Capitol was wrapping up, no visible police presence had been seen. One officer came out of a building around 10 p.m. but not anywhere near protesters. 

Organizers made a concerted effort to keep the group together, and repeatedly told protesters that if they were not peaceful they did not represent their movement. The protesters are bringing attention to Floyd's death in Minneapolis May 25 while in police custody, in addition to other deaths of unarmed black men involving police nationwide.

After a peaceful daytime protest Tuesday, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway urged protesters to "stay home" and not engage in the vandalism that has occurred overnight after the previous three days of peaceful daytime even evening protests. 

Rhodes-Conway said in a statement that the violence that occurred on State Street starting just before 1 a.m. Tuesday — which included stores looted with hammers and bats, more windows smashed, spray paint tags, shots fired, people attacked with crowbars and the use of Molotov cocktails — was "not protest", but rather, "dangerous criminal behavior." 

"It is time for this to end. Please stay home tonight," Rhodes-Conway said. "I welcome protests — particularly in the daytime — but I do not want legitimate protests to continue to provide cover for this violent, unacceptable behavior. I understand anger, but there is no excuse for putting lives in danger, and that is what is happening."

The group gathered Tuesday evening started out smaller than the more than 500 protesters who gathered at the Capitol Monday evening before a small group of agitators sparked the violence.

At 12:20 a.m. Wednesday after most protesters had left the Capitol to go home, State Street was quiet, with a few police cars patrolling. No looting. No destruction. 

Freedom, Inc., which has organized many of the activities in Madison, has said it plans to have some sort of organized protest or demonstration every day this week. 

Earlier Tuesday, activists again shut down a major thoroughfare in Madison to call attention to what they allege is an epidemic of violence by police against black people, this time shutting down the Beltline in both directions between Stoughton Road and John Nolen Drive.

Led by Freedom Inc. and its supporters, protesters met at the Dane County Jail Downtown just after 1 p.m. and then made their way to the Beltline, where traffic was blocked beginning around 2 p.m.

The shut down lasted for about an hour. Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said the group did not obtain a permit to march on the Beltline, which is a state highway, but that police were monitoring the situation instead of trying to break up the protest. 

On Monday, marchers with Freedom Inc., Urban Triage and the Party for Socialism Liberation, shut down John Nolen through the evening rush hour.

On Tuesday, before the Beltline was blocked, a caravan and march from the Dane County Jail, held to honor those who died at the hands of police, again ended up on John Nolen Drive. The procession blocked the road entirely for a short time while the group shouted slogans, before letting traffic through again, starting with the caravan of vehicles.

While many of the vehicles carried the Black Lives Matter message, others carried messages asking to defund police departments, and some memorialized George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Tony Robinson. 

With temperatures in the upper 80s, several people handed out water to marchers, and two men handed out oranges. Police stayed back but blocked some streets to give the caravan and marchers a clear berth. 

Rhodes-Conway urged protesters to not forget that we are living in the midst of a pandemic. 

"Wash your hands, and cover your face and stay six feet apart when you’re out in public," Rhodes-Conway said. "Please get tested for COVID-19 — free testing is available at the Alliant Energy Center. Please stay safe, and take care of each other."

State Journal reporters Shanzeh Ahmad, Elizabeth Beyer, Emily Hamer, Chris Rickert and Ed Treleven contributed to this report.

Photos: Protest caravan moves through Madison, shuts down John Nolen Drive

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