Arrest of 'anti-racism' graffiti vandal sparks uproar at University of Wisconsin

One of the messages found around the University of Wisconsin. (University of Wisconsin Police Department)

One of the messages found around the University of Wisconsin. (University of Wisconsin Police Department)

The writing is on the wall when it comes to the University of Wisconsin’s stance on "anti-racist" graffiti, but some students and faculty reportedly sided with the alleged vandal instead of the law.  

Campus police last week capped a six-month investigation into a wave of graffiti, arresting a senior as he sat in Afro-American Studies class at the Madison campus. The messages he allegedly spray-painted around campus, which included "F--- the Police," cost $4,000 to clean up, according to police.

"Graffiti is criminal vandalism and we act on these crimes regardless of the content," said campus Police Chief Susan Riseling.

The police chief did apologize for disruption caused by the arrest of Denzel McDonald, but said in a statement that efforts to apprehend him outside of class were unsuccessful and that officers did not realize class had begun.

But McDonald's supporters on campus were upset that he was arrested at all, according to Inside Higher Ed.

“The university is more interested in protecting the symbols of UW as a progressive institution, like their buildings and (mascot) Bucky, rather than the students who are actually fighting for social change, and apparently their lives,” Professor Johanna Almiron,  whose class was interrupted by the arrest, said in a letter of protest signed by 700 students and faculty. “The way UWPD officers entered my class was very aggressive, with bulletproof vests and guns visible. I cannot believe they humiliated and terrified my students.”

The 11 messages McDonald allegedly spray painted around campus also included, “Racizm in the air. Don’t breathe,-God" and “White supremacy is a disease.”


McDonald was subsequently arrested on 11 preliminary counts of vandalism and one count of disorderly conduct, for allegedly threatening to kill someone who saw him painting the graffiti. Prosecutors have not yet formally charged McDonald, who has been released on bail.

Almiron and other faculty members have asked that McDonald be “given immunity from expulsion,” and called the police response to the graffiti overzealous.

Click here for more from Inside Higher Ed