Gov. Evers defends decision to deploy National Guard

MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers defended his decision Thursday to deploy the Wisconsin National Guard to help police in Madison and Milwaukee control protests over George Floyd's death.

Evers, a Democrat, told reporters during a conference call that he deployed the Guard to protect property in Madison, including the state Capitol building, and utilities in Milwaukee. If the troops actively intervened they did so at the direction of local authorities, he said.

Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died on Memorial Day after police in Minneapolis arrested him for allegedly trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at a grocery store. Cell phone video of the incident shows a white officer, Derek Chauvin, pressing his knee into Floyd's neck while Floyd was handcuffed and laying in the street on his stomach.

Protests over Floyd’s death have rocked the nation, with some demonstrations marked by vandalism, burglaries and violence.

Evers said Thursday the protests are a watershed opportunity to fix systemic racism. He encouraged people to demonstrate lawfully.

“First Amendment rights are not to be trampled in this state or any other state,” Evers said. “Those who decide to do damage are damaging the First Amendment and they're damaging the opportunity for thousands of people across Wisconsin to exercise that First Amendment right.”