About 40 people joined nationwide protests in front of Stoughton’s police station for 12 hours Sunday, May 31.
While some passing motorists ignored the “Black Lives Matter” signs, others honked their horns for miles in solidarity.
The protest of the homicide of unarmed black people during interactions with police was largely inspired by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis the previous week. It also referred to Breonna Taylor, an EMT who was shot while sleeping in her home, in Kentucky in March, and unarmed teenager Tony Robinson in Madison in 2015.
Protesters young and old walked across the street of the station at 321 South Fourth St., displaying signs with such messages as “White people can not feel this pain,” “No justice. No silence,” and “I can’t breathe,” a reference both to the last tearful pleas from Floyd for his life and to the death of Eric Garner in New York in 2014.
Protestor Mia Croyle said Floyd’s death on Monday, May 25 – which has inspired several days of protests in cities all over the country – is just a single incidence of violence against black people, but representative of a larger problem.
“This is an opportunity not to say this one incident is wrong – which there is a consensus this is wrong – but that this is part of a larger trend and a larger system that needs to be looked at closely.”
Stoughton police chief Greg Leck said officers at the Stoughton Police Department were appalled by the killing of Floyd, in which now-former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was videotaped by an onlooker using his knee to hold the man’s neck down for at least eight minutes, holding it there even after Floyd became unresponsive. Several media reports have noted the Minneapolis police allow such tactics in limited situations.
“We train much differently than they do, apparently,” Leck said. “Those tactics would not be allowed in Wisconsin, and we are glad that the officer responsible is being held accountable.”
Organizer Dylann Bennett said the protests in Stoughton have been mostly peaceful, with community members donating food from local bakeries, and organizers providing water, masks and hand sanitizer.
However, when he stood outside on Hoel Avenue with protests signs Friday, Bennett said, he was unsuprised when a couple white drivers yelled “white power,” to him.
And on Saturday, a 63 year old white man threatened to come back with a shotgun if looting happened in Stoughton. The SPD told the Hub the man was cited for disorderly conduct.
“The good (responses) definitely outweigh the bad,” Bennett said. “But the negative is alive and well.”
Bennett is white, and has a black brother, and Croyle is white, and has two black children. Both protesters said their family members have experienced racism in Stoughton.
“This issue has become even more urgent for me – I look at my children and wonder will they be safe?” Croyle said. “As they move from cute little boys to preteens and older, it is hard as a parent to think this world will not be welcoming to them.”
Protests over Floyd’s death have included gatherings in Madison on Saturday, Sunday and Monday that started with a peaceful march, but eventually resulted in looting and damage to businesses and police vehicles in Madison’s downtown. Saturday’s march went from the Capitol Square to Williamson Street, where teenager Tony Robinson was shot and killed by Madison police officer Matthew Kenny in 2015.
Bennett, who attended the Saturday protest, said he was disappointed by the media coverage because it was overly focused on the destruction of property that occurred.
“The whole protest was beautiful, and I didn’t see anything about it after the violence started,” Bennett said.