RACINE, WI — Unlike Sunday night, a protest held at 1 p.m. Monday did not end in violence.

A group of nearly 200 demonstrators gathered at the Racine County Courthouse, outside the Racine Police Station and Monument Square Monday afternoon. Demonstrators kneeled in front of the police department as they chanted “black lives matter” among several other phrases.

As the march progressed, the crowd grew in number.

Outside, Racine Police stood watch on area side streets and blocked off traffic at several intersections as the group headed south from the department. They continued to march south on Center Street before doubling back and heading downtown.

Racine County officials closed the Racine County Courthouse and the Law Enforcement Center at 1 p.m. Monday due to the “expected demonstration and potential increased congestion in the downtown area.”

Employees deemed nonessential were sent home for the day.

“At this time, we expect county buildings will reopen as usual Tuesday morning,” according to a press release.

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City officials respond to violent early morning protest

In sharp contrast, violence broke out in the early morning hours on Monday following a protest that started peacefully on Monument Square.

But that changed at the Racine Police Department after some protesters confronted officers, lit fireworks and threw rocks. Officers responded by shooting tear gas into the crowd. Afterward, some of them walked down to the COP House on Villa Street and started a fire there.

During a press conference held at noon on Monday, Racine Mayor Cory Mason said that a total of 11 stores had been burglarized and vandalized. This included Johnson Bank, Magic Supermarket, Metro PCS, and Elmwood Plaza Jewelers. But city officials drew a line between people protesting around the death of George Floyd, who died of asphyxiation after Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck during an arrest and the criminal activity happening during the protests in Racine.

“When something like the murder of an African American citizen happens at the hands of police officers anywhere in the country, it undermines and erodes public confidence and trust in law enforcement,” Mason said. “We are all reeling from the trauma of seeing George Floyd murdered right in front of us by officers who have sworn to serve and protect their community while other officers stood by and failed to act.

“And we must acknowledge George Floyd’s name as one in a heartbreaking roster of names of African American citizens taken from their families and communities by racism and systemic violence.”

Racine Police Chief Art Howell said the community is outraged over the events in Racine and he denounced the criminal activity of the protesters.

“I share this information with you to make the distinction between the anger, and the frustration that is justified in our nation with the opportunists and the criminals who have literally hijacked this cause. They have gone from community to community to spread hate and commit crimes.”

Racine City Alderman John Tate II said that buildings and symbols do not have a greater value than human lives. He wants to see the city become more proactive to meet the needs of the black and brown community. Racine was named the second-worst place for black people to live in the nation.

“As we join in the sharing of grief and anger, with our Kindred communities and families. Let us do so in a way that honors their pain in our own,” he said. “Let us demand justice so that not one more name becomes a hashtag. Let’s make it abundantly clear that all lives matter when black lives matter.”

The city is encouraging residents to unite against racism at 6 p.m. June 2, but while being mindful of social distancing in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.

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