Madison Police Chief comments on Saturday protests, vandalism

"The anger isn't really towards us as individuals, it's the institution or the uniform in general," chief says

MADISON, Wis. — Interim Madison Police Chief Vic Wahl says it is still unclear whether the three people arrested following vandalism and looting on State Street Saturday night were Madison residents or from out of town.

Department officials say they are still processing reports from Saturday night, when a group of approximately 150 people started vandalizing businesses about an hour after a peaceful protest over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis ended. More information on the arrests is expected Monday morning.

Wahl says about 75 businesses were damaged or looted in the violence that stretched into the early-morning hours. One officer was injured, but the injuries were not considered serious.

Officers used pepper spray and tear gas to break up the crowd as they tried to secure State Street. Wahl says officers stood back during the protests, but intervened after storefronts started being vandalized. He says officers told the crowd to disperse over megaphones as part of their de-escalation tactics before using the chemicals.

“What we try to impress on our (officers) is that the anger isn’t really towards us as individuals, it’s the institution or the uniform in general,” said Wahl. “This event was another police department in another city in another state, it wasn’t our people doing it, so it’s important that our folks don’t personalize it’s not about us individually, it’s about a larger issue.”

Wahl says he and the department supports the right to protest, citing how the department helped with the peaceful protest earlier in the day, ensuring the safety of the protesters as they marched. Wahl has also spoken out against the video showing Floyd’s death, but he and other city officials say they draw the line at violence.

“I don’t think it’s incompatible to support justice or professionalism in policing, but still not want a store to get looted or for your city to be subject to riots,” Wahl said in a one-on-one interview with News 3 Now following a press conference Sunday morning.

#LIVE: We are having a one-on-one conversation with Madison Police Chief Vic Wahl. He’s talking about the violence that happened on State Street Saturday night.

Posted by News 3 Now / Channel 3000 on Sunday, May 31, 2020

“I won’t say that I understand, because I obviously can’t, being a white guy and a police chief. I can’t put myself in their shoes as an African-American and community member and pretend to feel what they’re feeling,” Wahl said. “My message would be that you can view problems globally, but the solutions and responses should be local. And as angry as we all might be about what happened in Minneapolis, destroying things on State Street here in Madison doesn’t help matters. And I think what I can focus on is what we’re going to do at MPD.”

“I’m committed to making sure that we do the right thing, that we hire the best people, that we treat people with dignity, that we use force only when it’s appropriate, and our whole DNA is to build relationships,” Wahl said.