Mayor, protester and passenger speak about protest incident

Published: Jun. 11, 2020 at 9:30 PM CDT
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The vast majority of Sunday’s Black Lives Matter protest in Stevens Point remained peaceful. Protesters lined Centerpoint Drive and Water Street before eventually congregating on the downtown square, listening to speakers, and joining together as one. It was when a group of trucks, decorated with American and Trump 2020 flags, entered the square that tensions began to rise.

Stevens Point Mayor Mike Wiza says he believes the drivers of the trucks drove onto the square in an attempt to antagonize and incite a reaction from the protesters.

“Yes, they have a right to drive on the city streets. Was it a smart thing to do? I don’t think so,” said Mayor Wiza during a Zoom interview Thursday afternoon.

The mayor addressed the incident in his Mayor’s Minute video posted to the City of Stevens Point Government Facebook page Wednesday night.

“I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again, there is absolutely no room in our community for hate, bigotry, racism or intimidation. Zero, none. That is not who we are and that is not something we want in our community,” said Mayor Wiza during the video. “It’s very clear to me that the young men who chose to repeatedly drive through the downtown square last Sunday, during a peaceful assembly, did so with the sole intention of disrupting that protest and inciting a reaction.”

Tim Conway participated in the protest on Sunday and echoed the mayor’s statements.

“We all have our right to voice our opinion, but just don’t come disturbing a peaceful protest,” said Conway, who captured an altercation between protesters and one of the trucks that are now under investigation on video.

After driving through the square and leaving peacefully, the drivers returned with more vehicles.

Protesters blocked off the road around the square, forcing the lead vehicle to have to back up and turn out on Main Street.

Conway and several other protesters were up close with the vehicle, and in his Facebook Live video, a baseball bat can be seen in the hands of one of the passengers sitting in the bed of the truck.

“You’re exercising your First Amendment right but you’re coming to a peaceful protest, wasn’t bothering anybody wasn’t interrupting anything, with a bat,” Conway said, questioning the intentions of the passengers.

According to Conway and other protesters at the scene, the passengers in the trucks could be heard saying “Trump 2020” as well as racial slurs to the protesters.

A passenger in one of the vehicles that passed through the square denies that any racial slurs were said, adding that there was no ill intent when they decided to drive through.

“We didn’t think there were any problems with going through there, but it turned out there was,” the passenger said, who added that the person that could be seen with a bat was using it as self-defense. “What I have heard from them is that they (protesters) were getting up in their faces with the signs and like throwing them at them, pushing them in their faces. I don’t think anything would have gotten to the point it did had they not, like, all started blocking the road, and then like starting to chase after us.”

Conway says it was the numerous attempts at antagonizing the protesters that had himself and others so upset.

“We wouldn’t have chased them out the square when ya’ll leaving,” Conway said. “When you come drawing attention by revving your engines and then, speaking lowly but saying racial slurs, someone’s going to take offense to that and get upset at you, and someone will react to that. That’s not what I wanted to do and I tried to prevent everybody else from doing that because a lot of my friends were really upset.”

The passenger says that while he supports protests against corrupt members of law enforcement, he doesn’t agree with ‘Black Lives Matter.’

“I think we have to look into, you know, both sides,” the passenger said. “Yes, they are getting killed more than whites, percentage-wise, so I do think they have a protest to go with. I personally, kind of support this, I think if it was ‘Corrupt Cops’ or ‘Get Rid of Corrupt Cops’ I’d probably be out there marching with them.”

Conway says that he plans to continue supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, and hopes to use his experiences to try and help others understand where the black community is coming from along the way.

“Whatever stigma or opinion that you have about me,” said Conway. “I want to hear you out but I also want you to hear me out.”

Mayor Wiza says that the Stevens Point Police Department passed the investigation into the incident along to the Marshfield Police Department after two conflicts of interest were discovered.

The first conflict is that one of the passengers in one of the vehicles is the relative of a former Assistant Police Chief for the Stevens Point Police Department, who now serves as a citizen member on the city’s Police and Fire Commission.

The second conflict that was discovered is that one of the people involved in the incident is a tenant of a current Stevens Point police officer.

“We needed to find someone who was outside,” said Mayor Wiza. “So there was no perception of any conflict of interest. We wanted to separate ourselves from that investigation.”

Mayor Wiza says that he has full confidence that the Stevens Point Police Department would have been able to handle the investigation fairly.

“We have some of the most righteous and honest and caring officers that you could ask for,” explained Mayor Wiza. “I have no doubt that if they would have handled it themselves, it would be handled in a very professional, unbiased manner.”

NewsChannel 7 reached out to Marshfield Police Chief Rick Gramza, who said it was too early to say what individuals were being investigated and for what crimes.

Mayor Wiza indicated that the city had been made aware of racial slurs from the passengers as well as threats coming from both the passengers in the vehicles as well as protesters.