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Tensions rise at Menomonie protest against racism over upside-down American flag

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upside down flag

Menomonie (WQOW) - Tensions rose at a peaceful protest in Menomonie Sunday evening, after an altercation about a protester's American flag being flown upside-down led some to stand on a nearby roof with rifles visible.

Protesters were standing peacefully with signs along the corner of Broadway and Main Street, near UW-Stout, sending a message of anti-racism.

One protester, Benjamin Wendt, was flying an American flag upside-down, he said as a way to draw attention to injustice against people of color.

Wendt was approached by two men who said while they respected his right to free speech and protest, displaying the flag in that way was wrong and they took issue with it.

The men agreed that injustice was seen throughout the country toward people of color. When invited to stand with the protesters, the men declined and left.

Minutes later, the same men were seen across the street on top of a building posting their own flags, and propped up rifles along the ledge of the building's roof.

"And they wonder why we [people of color] are afraid of being shot," said protester Olivia Bautista in the middle of an interview with News 18 when the crowd became aware of the counter-protesters. "That's the (vulgarity) we are talking about. This is why people of color are afraid. There's even white people here and they're still having guns!"

The men on the roof later giving News 18 a statement saying they support peaceful protests, however, they felt the need to protect their community, in case riots broke out as they did in Minneapolis.

The Menomonie Police Department arrived quickly after being called by a protester, and had officers on scene for the remainder of the protest to keep an eye on the situation.

Chief Eric Atkinson spoke to the crowd, thanking them for keeping their protest peaceful and letting them know his officers could be approached with any more concerns.

A few vehicles drove by yelling at the protesters, but nothing else escalated.

Wendt and Bautista said they want to educate people, including those who approached Wendt, about what it means to fight against racism.

"They had said that they stand by the movement of Black Lives Matter, but they would not stand hand in hand with us underneath this upside-down flag which really shows how thin their support is," said Wendt.

"We're not trying to be mean, we're not trying to be horrible, we want to educate you," said Bautista. "We need you guys. We need white allies."

Protesters said they always intended to have a peaceful protest, and they hope events such as their demonstration will eventually lead to change in our country.

Mary Pautsch

Mary came to News 18 in July 2019 from Sioux City, Iowa where she graduated from Morningside College with a BA in Spanish after attending Iowa State University for 3 years.

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