MILWAUKEE — Violence on the opening night of the Wisconsin State Fair by rampaging youths prompted extraordinary measures Friday: Gov. Scott Walker called in the State Patrol and fair officials implemented new rules to keep unattended minors off the grounds at night.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Police Chief Ed Flynn, meanwhile, vowed Friday to beef up policing at this weekend's public events around the city to limit any chance of more violence.
The trouble at the fair started around 7 p.m. Thursday in the Midway area, where the amusement rides are, when fights broke out among black youths, said Tom Struebing, chief of the State Fair police. Those fights did not appear to be racially motivated, but witnesses said later attacks were.
Then, around closing time at 11 p.m., witnesses told the Journal Sentinel, dozens to hundreds of black youths attacked white people as they left the fair, punching and kicking people, and shaking and pounding on vehicles.
At least 31 people were arrested — many for disorderly conduct — in connection with the series of incidents on the fairgrounds and on the streets outside. At least 11 people, seven of them police officers, were injured, officials said. Twenty-four people were arrested within the fairgrounds by State Fair police. West Allis police arrested seven people, five of them juveniles, outside the fairgrounds.
Struebing said two injured officers were hospitalized; one was hit in the face with an improvised weapon, the other suffered a concussion.
"We normally can handle anything in the park," Struebing said.
Because of the violence, Rick Frenette, CEO of the fair, announced that the fair would immediately implement a policy in which no youths under 18 years of age would be allowed onto the grounds after 5 p.m. without a parent or guardian at least 21 years old.
Walker made the decision to provide extra State Patrol help after reviewing the incidents, said his spokesman, Cullen Werwie.
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"We will continue to evaluate the situation and make any adjustments necessary to ensure a successful and safe event. We will be doing everything in our power to ensure that parents feel that it is safe to bring their children to the world's best fair," Werwie said in a statement.
On Friday, fair security started setting up extra metal fencing at entrances around 5 p.m.
Patrice Harris, fair communications manager, said identification will be checked at each gate in the area where bags are searched.
At one of the gates, at least 70 people had their IDs checked within the first hour. All appeared to be minors who were not with guardians.
West Allis, Milwaukee and State Fair police spent Friday trying to piece together what happened. But they could not say what started the situation.
Witnesses told the Journal Sentinel the attacks appeared to be unprovoked and racially motivated.
Jon Stikl of Oak Creek said he was stuck in traffic as a group of young people blocked cars near the fair gate after he picked up family members attending the fair.
"We noticed a group of five to 10 young black males run up and jump a young white male for no other reason than him being white," Stikl said. They knocked him to the ground and then a group of 15 black men kicked and stomped on him, Stikl said.
"My wife's brother jumped out of the car — his natural reaction was to try to break it up. Before you knew it, five or 10 guys were on him and started punching at him. My wife was able to pull him back in the car. So now they surrounded my car and just started punching through the windows, kicking and shaking the car, screaming racial things."