MADISON (WKOW) -- Demonstrators who blocked traffic in Madison Tuesday are calling out the police department for arresting them during what they called a "peaceful protest" but police leaders say the activists' actions were what brought on the arrests.
The demonstration started as high school students walked out of class late Tuesday morning, marching to East Washington Avenue to join others blocking traffic for several hours. It was to join in an effort to call attention to police violence across the country, a National Day of Action.
Chief Mike Koval says his department allowed the demonstration to continue until around 6:30 p.m., but he says it had to end at some point to let traffic get back to normal. He says officers who responded gave protesters ample opportunity to clear out or accept the consequences of disrupting traffic.
"I did give more deference, initially in the day, to the First Amendment and because it was a part of a national day of recognition about justice, so in the spirit of that, we cut a wide swath this time. That will not be the norm," Koval told the media at a news conference for an unrelated announcement Wednesday morning. "That was one time. We will balance each of these instances on a case by case basis, weighing rights of First Amendment versus the rights of others."
Koval says for the first time, it appeared demonstrators wanted to be arrested, but those out protesting say that's not the case. The Young, Gifted & Black Coalition, which organized the rally, released a statement Tuesday night saying the incident illustrates the police violence they've been protesting for months.
"They brutalized me, and they arrested our babies who were mourning and protesting against the police violence that led to the murder of their friend, Tony Robinson," organizer Brandi Grayson said in the statement.
Grayson was arrested, among three others at the gathering. Police say 11 people were also cited. Koval maintains the officers did all they could to balance the rights of the demonstrators with the rights of the rest of the community. He says the officers were professional, cordial and respectful.
"If you choose to be a history revisionist and call for drama on each and every encounter with the police, your credibility diminishes and you deserve anything that you have coming to you when you engage in that sort of rhetoric," Koval says.
Koval told the media he hopes the adults leading the young people in these demonstrations have their best interest at heart, adequately explaining the future consequences of being arrested.