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From Tear Gas To Peaceful Streets: The Unrest In Racine

Catherine Brooks
A crowd peacefully protesting at the Racine Police Department on Monday.

On Monday, the protests in Racine started in the afternoon and peacefully ended well into the night. But the night before, the scene changed from peaceful to violent. 

Sparkle Robinson, 31, has lived in Racine her whole life. She’s a designer and curates custom weddings and birthday parties for a living. Through her business, she’s a well-known member of Racine’s black community.

On Sunday evening, Robinson, like many other people, marched against police brutality. She started downtown and headed toward the police headquarters. Most of the night was documented on her Facebook Live. When she arrived at the police station, officers were outside in riot gear.

"At that time? My heart was beating so fast and I was just so nervous. Oh my God — I'm sitting out here. I get shot or I get hurt, my mom's gonna kill me first of all because she don’t want me out here," recalls Robinson.

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According to her, protestors threw rocks and police fired tear gas to break up the crowd. At this point, Robinson decided to get in her car and go home. From there she watched videos on social media from people who were still documenting what had turned into a violent and chaotic scene. Among the chaos: arson at one of the city's neighborhood COP Houses — police centers for community-oriented policing.

Robinson described what she was seeing,  "Now COP house on fire. People running toward it. More police officers like blocked off the whole street. The police is still standing firm like don't come This way."

When asked about the protests turning violent, Robinson says it’s wrong but maybe necessary.

"Honestly, I feel like it's wrong and I feel like it's needed. When we're quiet and we’re protesting, people are like we're ignoring them anyway. And then soon we make some noise and get violent, that's when you pay attention," she says.

Protests turning violent: "Honestly, I feel like it's wrong and I feel like it's needed." - Sparkle Robinson

Fire seriously damaged the Thelma Orr COP House, a landmark in Racine. It was established to honor the work of Thelma Orr, a black woman activist directly responsible for the recruitment and development of a number of African American police officers. One of those officers is Racine Police Chief Art Howell.

"I grew up on the street that she lived in and I was a young kid who had no aspiration to be a police officer because there were no people who looked like me that were police officers," he explains. 

Howell says the damage is a desecration to Orr’s memory. He says he believes subversive groups from outside the city acted as agitators in the incident. As of Wednesday, police say they've made an arrest.

Credit Catherine Brooks
Protesters sit peacefully in front of the Racine Police Department on Monday.

But on Monday, the second day of protests in Racine looked drastically different than the unrest on Sunday night. In the afternoon, more than 200 people marched peacefully throughout the city decrying police brutality following the death of George Floyd.

That night protestors assembled in front of the Racine Police Department. Officers were in front of the department in riot gear, blocking protesters from getting near the building. Protestors and police engaged in a dialogue.
According to the Racine Journal Times, by 11:40 p.m. the crowd had dispersed from the barricade. 
By 2 a.m. Tuesday — almost exactly 24 hours after a group of people was lighting fire to the Community Policing house on Villa Street — the streets of Racine stood silent.

Angelina Mosher Salazar joined WUWM in 2018 as the Eric Von Broadcast Fellow. She was then a reporter with the station until 2021.
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