A symbolic kneeling of support against the killing of George Floyd at a press conference on Wednesday, June 3, illuminated a divide on how to best respond to destruction of property on State Street.
Michael Johnson, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County (BGCDC) hosted a meeting at the club’s Allied Drive location to highlight a gesture by the area police officers and elected officials of taking a knee in solidarity against police brutality.
During the press conference, protesters could be heard from outside the building demanding more support from Black community leadership.
The family of Tony Robinson — a Black man shot and killed by Madison police in 2015 — Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney, acting Madison Police Chief Vic Wahl, state Rep. Sheila Stubbs, Madison School Board President Gloria Reyes and players of the Forward Madison soccer team were present at the press conference.
Johnson said he supports peaceful protests and condemns the destruction of property on State Street, promising to hire 75 peacekeepers and paying $12.83 per hour to assist anyone who needs help or medical attention during a demonstration.
Meanwhile, roughly 20 protesters stood outside the building asking for the $195,000 raised by the Boys and Girls Club to support 75 downtown businesses damaged in protests to be redistributed to the Black community, including a bail fund.
Johnson defended himself against the accusations of protesters and talked about the money he has raised in his time as CEO, including $2 million for the Dane County COVID relief fund and $27,000 for the family of Tony Robinson to cover funeral costs.
“They can talk all the bad stuff they want but here is the bottom line — I’m not going to apologize for putting almost 100 kids to work,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to apologize for raising $2 million for families who are struggling during COVID-19. I’m not going to apologize for helping to pay the rent for families that need help in this community. And I’m not going to apologize for trying to bridge a gap between the African American community and law enforcement. I’m not going to apologize because this is what collective leadership looks like.”
The protesters outside, who said they were not allowed access into the meeting, said that the money Johnson and the Boys and Girls Club raises is not reinvested in the Black community. They said that the $12.83 an hour Johnson offered to pay young people to act as peacekeepers is not enough to risk the lives of Black youth and no one should be telling Black youth how to respond.
“There are Black women, Black queer women running this event,” Alyssa Ivivy, a protester outside of the Boys and Girls Club, told Madison365. “And instead of standing beside them and being with us — whether that is in your car safe with your windows rolled and in the air conditioning, dropping off supplies or helping with the fundraising for us — (BGCDC is helping) those white business owners on State Street. They have insurance — their deductible will go up but they will be fine.”
After the press conference at least one protester was allowed in the building and was observed talking with Johnson privately.
The protesters outside did speak with Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney, who had bouquets of flowers left on his lawn yesterday to reflect unarmed Black people who were killed by police officers.
Dave Mahoney did not talk about a reduced police presence at the protest but interim police chief Vic Wahl said the police presence will reflect the pulse of the demonstrators.
“What our goal is during the protest where things are peaceful … we are there to observe, block traffic and to facilitate what the expression is,” Wahl said. “We need to have resources available if we see what we’ve seen the last couple nights where there is a lot of violence. So we will have people available but not out there visible to the protesters.”