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Madison protests turn violent, hate crime probes follow

UW Madison protest

Multiple law enforcement agencies respond to UW-Madison protests Wednesday, May 1, 2024. Submitted photo Skylar Croy

Madison protests turn violent, hate crime probes follow

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Scared. Nervous. Uncomfortable.

Those words describe the feeling among both Christian and Jewish law school students on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus this week, said Samantha Crane and George Clark.

University of Wisconsin-Madison officials released a report May 8 providing specific examples of hate crimes that local law enforcement are presently investigating.

On May 1, 2024, a female student was displaying a pro-Israel sign. The female student reported to police that an unknown man with a knife visibly attached to his waistband approached her on Library Mall, the location of the pro-Palestinian encampments.

The man with the weapon approached her and said, “Jews shouldn’t be on campus.”

University of Wisconsin police said the incident was reported to UWPD on May 8, and is being investigated as a possible hate crime.

Caroline Clancy with The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Milwaukee Field Office told the Wisconsin Law Journal Friday that “The FBI is in close contact with state and local law enforcement partners and, as we do in the normal course of business, we will share any information regarding potential threats. We respect the rights of individuals to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights and the FBI investigates individuals who violate federal law through violence or other criminal activity.”

Fond du Lac District Attorney Eric Toney agreed, during an interview with The Wisconsin Law Journal Friday.

“Our right to free speech must be protected but actions within protests across the country, and in Wisconsin, have resulted in vile antisemitic speech and some criminal activity. Those actions threaten the safety of students and staff on campuses and have no place in our society. I hope our Wisconsin Attorney General has acted swiftly to investigate any criminal violations, while also identifying any funding sources connected to illegal activity, such as unlawful hate speech or violence,” Toney said.

University of Wisconsin Madison Police also told the Wisconsin Law Journal on Thursday that protesters are becoming combative with law enforcement.

On May 9, “the crowd at the encampment was very confrontational with officers,” said Marc Lovicott, UW-Madison Police Department’s executive director of communications.

“Our officers on scene to assist reported the crowd was yelling and partially surrounding the officers as they detained the individual,” Lovicott said, noting, “at times even making physical contact with officers. ”

“This is just another example of the serious safety concerns we have with this encampment,” Lovicott added.

From tents lined with hateful messages against Jews and Christians being erected on campus to anti-semitic and anti-Christian messages lined on campus sidewalks, students are puzzled as to why the university only made one attempt to remove the tents, which were then reconstructed in direct violation of both Wisconsin statutes and university policy.

“It seems the University of Wisconsin is placating toward those who are breaking the law,” Crane said.

“This is not only against our student policy, but it is against Wisconsin law,” the 3L student added.

Jews and Christians

“There is a solidarity between Christians and Jews because of the hate that is now spreading against both of us,” said Clark, a graduating UW Law Student.

Also during a May 9 interview with the Wisconsin Law Journal, Crane said she is frustrated with the University of Wisconsin’s failure to not only enforce state law, but also make all students feel welcome, safe and respected.

May 10, 2024, is graduation day for University of Wisconsin Law School 3L Clark and many others.

During an interview with the Wisconsin Law Journal on Thursday, Clark said he has been an active member in many Christian organizations on campus and shares the same sentiments as Crane, who is Jewish.

According to Clark, Judeo-Christian values are under attack and he, like many Jewish students, no longer feel safe or welcome on campus.

According to Clark, the protesters “are very unpredictable. You really don’t feel like it’s a good environment just walking from St. Paul’s (Student Catholic Center) to the (student) union,” Clark said.

“You have to be on watch because at any moment something can happen,” Clark said.

Police said on May 7, 2024, at or around 3:50 p.m., a student reported that he was approached by an unknown male on Library Mall who threatened to kill him if he didn’t put away his phone. The victim walked away and reported the suspect followed him for a short time and continued to threaten him verbally.

According to authorities, the man was trying to take a picture or video of the Pro-Palestinian protesters and they objected, despite it being on a public campus space.

Clark described the pro-Palestinian protesters as “people who hate the idea of a peaceful Judeo-Christan society.”

“These people hate the idea that a Christian could ever align with a Jew,” Clark added.

Wisconsin Law and Liberty (WILL) Attorney Skylar Croy said he, like local law enforcement and students, has concerns over the safety of students on campus in Madison.

“The encampment is bordering on, and may well be, a public nuisance. There have been multiple incidents since it began. I worry that at some point there will be a serious injury or worse,” Croy said during an interview with the Wisconsin Law Journal on Thursday.

On Thursday, Croy pointed out on X that University of Wisconsin teaching assistants are planning to withhold grades in solidarity with the pro-Hamas demonstrators.

“This will create chaos and hurt students (on all sides),” Croy remarked.

Meanwhile, another violent incident involving Pro-Palestinian protesters was reported on Wednesday in Madison.

Police said on May 8, 2024, at approximately 4:20 a.m., an assault involving the use of a large stick occurred between two individuals on the Library Mall, the site of the pro-Palestinian encampments. As UWPD officers arrived, the fight had stopped and there was no longer a disturbance. UWPD continued monitoring the area for safety.

Libby Cohen, a Jewish undergraduate student, was recently quoted in the student newspaper, the Daily Cardinal:

University of Wisconsin-Madison campus is lined with anti-semitic messages. Photo submitted by Skylar Croy.

Crane said she, too, is in a state of disbelief.

“I am shocked and share some of the sentiments as Libby Cohen,” Crane said.

“It amazes me the times we are living in that these are comments made on a college campus,” Crane added.

Crane said she believes the university is not concerned enough.

“There should be a little more concern and attention given to this,” Crane said.

Clark and Crane both noted the media bias covering the protesters views, who make up a small percentage of the population.

Both Clark and Crane said the university also needs to do a better job.

Crane said she recognizes that the university is trying to balance protesters’ right to free speech and an inclusive and welcoming campus. However, she said the protesters have gone beyond free speech by engaging in hate crimes and violating state law from the mere presence of the tents.

Also on May 9, University of Wisconsin Madison police confirmed that one of the protesters confessed to performing a “Heil Hitler’ salute to one of the Jewish students. Police identified the man as Christian Hansen of Madison. He was not arrested, but was issued a citation for disorderly conduct.

As previously reported, on April 29, 2024, Madison protesters allegedly performed a “Heil Hitler” salute at University of Wisconsin‘s Jewish students while violating Wis. Statutes by pitching tents on university grounds.

On May 9, Crane also pointed out, “there were less than 200 protesters, but there are more than 5,000 Jewish students on campus.”

“That’s not really looking out for a sizable population of this campus,” Crane said.

Crane said moving forward the university needs to do better job enforcing the law and condemning anti-semitism.

Clark said the media needs to do better job of looking at the bigger picture, noting most media have interviewed the protesters, but not students.

“Protesters’ views do not reflect that of the majority of students,” Clark said.

Hate crimes across the country have skyrocketed and Wisconsin is no exception.

As previously reported by the Wisconsin Law Journal, hate crimes in Wisconsin based on race or religion have nearly tripled in the past three years.

In response to Crane and Clark’s concerns, University of Wisconsin spokesperson John Lucas issued the following statement:

“This is a particularly difficult time for some of our Jewish students and families and (we) are doing everything we can to provide support as the spring semester comes to a close.

“We recognize that the illegal encampment on Library Mall generates a range of reactions and concerns, particularly as news of Commencement disruptions and police engagement on other campuses flood the news.

“Chancellor Mnookin and her leadership team are working to bring the situation to an immediate resolution as quickly and safely as possible. We are also engaged with all parts of our community to share information and receive feedback.

“Chancellor Mnookin and other senior leaders met Monday with a group of Jewish student leaders, faculty, and religious leaders, to hear about their experience on campus and near the encampment. We are following up on situations raised and we have heard positive comments from the students about the meeting.

“UW-Madison condemns antisemitism in all its forms. This past weekend, we moved to suspend two student organizations for alleged discriminatory behavior, pending an investigation. UWPD has also shared information about recent incidents and continues to investigate the alleged Nazi salute from last week.

“We continue to encourage those who have experienced or witnessed concerning behavior to fill out a bias report or call UWPD directly with a safety concern. We are monitoring this situation and responding to each concern as quickly as possible.”

The Wisconsin Law Journal reached out to several of the protesters, including University of Wisconsin professors, for comment. None of the protesters have responded to calls or emails over the past week.

Despite the Nazi salute, harassment, intimidation and threat of physical violence against students, many Wisconsin Democrats are defending the protesters.

Democrat Wisconsin Rep. Ryan Clancy issued a statement last week: “I stand with the UW-Madison student organizers who established an encampment on campus. Chancellor Mnookin calling in a police force to dismantle the peaceful encampment early this morning was an unnecessary escalation that flies in the face of the values the university claims to uphold. Both encampments are places of learning, solidarity, and joy.”

Democrat and Milwaukee County Supervisor Justin Bielinski took aim at Republicans on X, formerly known as Twitter, about speaking up against the anti-sematic protests.

On May 9, 2024, Republican Senate candidate Eric Hovde posted to X, “WATCH: Sen. Baldwin wants to bring Gaza refugees to Wisconsin. Not only is that a bad idea, it’s a dangerous one.”

In response, Andrew Mamo, Tammy Baldwin for Senate Spokesperson told the Wisconsin Law Journal Friday that “It’s shameful Eric Hovde is playing politics with peoples’ lives. The administration’s focus should be on achieving a mutually agreed upon ceasefire, a return of hostages, and getting humanitarian aid into Gaza. Any refugee plan the administration puts forward must first be focused on ensuring the safety and security of Americans and therefore thoroughly vetting anyone they would consider allowing into the United States.”

 

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