The moment of silence wasn’t quite silent.
Organizer Brandi Grayson asked for a moment of silence for the Black lives lost at the hands of police just as noon struck, and the bell at Grace Episcopal Church on the Capitol Square rang out 12 times — 12 chimes that took on an especially somber tone.
The rest of the afternoon wasn’t silent, either.
More than 2,000 people gathered in downtown Madison Saturday to express outrage over, and demand justice for, the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police last week — as well as the deaths of Breona Taylor in Louisville last month, Tony Robinson in Madison five years ago, and many more in between.
The protest was organized by Freedom Inc and Urban Triage.
The gathering began at the Capitol Square with several hundred more joining after marching from the Library Mall at the bottom of State Street. Many carried signs with messages like “I can’t breathe” — referring to the last words of both George Floyd and Eric Garner — “Black Lives Matter,” “All lives can’t matter until Black lives matter,” and “It’s not police brutality, it’s murder.”
A bag was placed over the head of the Forward statue at the top of State Street with the words “Justice is Dead” written on it.
The gathering marched from the square down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and onto Wilson Street, then onto Carroll, where organizers took to a car roof to make fiery speeches outside the County Jail.
“It may be uncomfortable to come out. It may be uncomfortable to realize that right now, in this moment right here, we have to stand up and every day, fight for our rights,” said Jordan King, 25, a close friend of Robinson. “As Black people, we have been murdered, we have been tortured, we have been dismantled as a people, and this is the result. We have been hurt to the point that now, buildings — which are not people — are being destroyed. Do I condone it? No. Do I understand it? Yes.”
“We are here today because in the time of a pandemic, we are told we will be safer at home,” said Freedom Inc co-director M Adams. “But if you’re Black, you are not safer at home. We’re here because if you’re Breona Taylor, the pigs can bust in and murder you. We’re here because if you’re George Floyd, and you’re outside minding your damn business, the state can suffocate you with a knee in your neck.”
Urban Triage founder Grayson laid out some specific demands — demands that have been made before: “We demand community control over the police. We demand reparations for all Black bodies.”
She also demanded more allyship from the majority.
“We can’t expect Black bodies to continue to work alone,” she said. “All y’all white people … support Black people more than just showing up at a protest.”
Marching behind a large “Black Lives Matter” banner, the group returned to the square and made its way down East Washington Avenue and ultimately to Williamson Street, where Robinson was killed. The protest ended back up on the Square at around 4:30.
There were no arrests in that period, and very little interaction between protesters and police, who were dressed in standard uniforms, not riot gear.
Only one potential incident was caught on camera and shared on social media — on Williamson Street, a car pulled into an intersection that was occupied by protesters, who began banging on the car and the windows; the driver then sped through the intersection, sending a bike rider tumbling to the ground. Social media reports indicate he wasn’t seriously injured.
Madison acting police chief Vic Wahl said he intended to send his officers home for the night after the protest concluded at 4:30, but a small group of people, whom Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway called “provocateurs,” seem to have begun another, separate protest. They began damaging a police car before moving on to break windows and loot businesses on State Street. Wahl said police observed but didn’t intervene, hoping it would “die down,” he said. Police eventually returned in tactical gear at around 6 pm, and used pepper spray and other chemical agents to attempt to disperse the crowd. About 75 businesses ended up sustaining damage, much of which was cleaned up by volunteers Sunday morning.