MADISON, Wisconsin — A woman accosted by a male Black Lives Matter activist while she prayed the Rosary with her young children on the Capitol Square earlier this week returned to the scene to pray again Wednesday and Thursday, saying she would not be bullied into silence.
“We went out again and prayed today. The way I see it is if we are bullied out of the public square because of a crazy, then none of us can pray,” said the woman, 40, a parishioner at a suburban Dane County Catholic Church. She asked not to be identified in order to protect her family. “We’re never going to be able to go out and pray freely.”
On June 23, the woman and her four children, all under the age of ten, were walking up State Street to the Capitol Square in Downtown Madison when they were harassed by a man with a bullhorn who was carrying an aluminum baseball bat. She said the man made threatening gestures with the bat, belittled her faith and said she was “rich” and a “fat b*tch.” Fearing for her safety, the woman took the children and retreated to the family vehicle.
A short time later, the man went into the nearby Cooper’s Tavern and caused a disturbance with his bullhorn, shouting about slavery, civil war and how Jesus Christ “was not a white man with blond hair, blue eyes and pink lips.” When police arrived and moved to disarm the man, he fought with officers and ran from the scene before being detained and arrested. His arrest sparked protests and riots that night, including the destruction of two historic statues on Capitol property, the firebombing of the City County Building, widespread vandalism and the beating of a state senator who was photographing the unrest.
Devonere Armani Johnson, 28, a well-known black activist from Madison who calls himself “Yeshua Musa,” was jailed on tentative charges of disorderly conduct, resisting/obstructing police, escape from a criminal arrest and a probation violation. The violence following his arrest prompted Gov. Tony Evers to activate the Wisconsin National Guard’s Quick Reaction Force to support local police in protecting the Capitol and quelling any further rioting. Protests in Downtown Madison have since been peaceful.
“All I can do is go out and pray quietly and peacefully with my kids,” the woman said. “I feel we are called to do that, and if that is being rebellious or dangerous or evil, then we are in serious trouble. Our world has reached a point I don’t want to think about.”
The woman said her children were traumatized by the experience. She framed her explanation to them in a charitable light. “I just told them there are people in the world who are very hurt and confused right now, and they think they are helping but they are making things worse.”
A group of local Catholics has made regular “Rosary walks” around the Capitol Square over the past month, a practice started by Madison-area priest, Fr. Richard Heilman. Part of the idea is to be a visible sign of the Catholic faith in the public square.
At noon Thursday, Fr. Heilman sat at the base of one of the destroyed statues near the Capitol and posed for a photo with some of the Rosary walkers. He said recent events in Madison and across the United States show that the real fight is between satan and God. For Catholics, the answer is more prayer, especially the Rosary. “Absolutely,” Fr. Heilman told CWR. “We’re weak, and Satan believes this is his time to deal the last blow.”
Developments surrounding the Downtown violence piled up quickly on Thursday. Business owners told local CBS television affiliate News 3 that Johnson had been harassing restaurant patrons and owners for several days prior to his arrest. “Several businesses, which did not want to be identified due to fear of retaliation, said Devonere Johnson came into their restaurants with a bat and a megaphone demanding free food and drinks and threatened those who wouldn’t give it to him, allegedly saying he would burn down their buildings or beat them up,” the news station reported.
The conservative web site Empower Wisconsin said Madison police sources told them that during the rioting, officers were instructed by commanders to stand down, even after police were warned the City County Building could be target of a firebomb. “What I know, talking to my peers, they were told to stand down so command post could make decisions and choices,” one police source told Empower Wisconsin. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) put up a $5,000 reward for information leading the capture of the man who firebombed the building that houses the Madison Police Department.
Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway issued a statement Thursday indicating she wants to see Johnson released on bail. “I recognize that we need better options to deescalate situations and offer restorative justice in our community,” the mayor said.
In 2017, Johnson was convicted in Wisconsin of felony theft of moveable property and given five years of probation. One of the stipulations was he could not possess any weapons. In 2015, he was acquitted of shooting and paralyzing a man during a fight on a Minneapolis bus. He was tried in Hennepin County District Court for felony assault. One witness told police that during the fight, Johnson told the other man, “I’m gonna pop you.”
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