Police from three jurisdictions - West Allis, Milwaukee and Wisconsin State Fair police - spent Friday morning piecing together a series of incidents late Thursday night at the Wisconsin State Fair in which large groups of youths rampaged through the Midway and outside the grounds after closing.
Officials could not say what started what witnesses said was a series of racially charged incidents that apparently began as early as 7 p.m. in the Midway. The Midway is located just east of the Pettit National Ice Center and adjacent to the Hank Aaron Bike Trail.
Milwaukee police confirmed there were assaults outside the fair as the fair was closing down. The fair closes at 11 p.m.
Witnesses told WTMJ-AM (Radio 620) that dozens to hundreds of young blacks were beating white people as they left the fair late Thursday night. Patrice Harris, a Fair spokeswoman, said a police alert she was given indicated four people were hurt.
"It looked like they were just going after white guys, white people," Norb Roffers of Wind Lake told WTMJ-AM. He said he left the State Fair entrance near the corner of S. 84th Street and W. Schlinger Avenue in West Allis.
One eyewitness, a concession worker who works near the Midway area, told the Journal Sentinel that large groups of African-American youths ran through the Midway area, knocking over young children and adults, disrupting Midway rides and tearing signs up.
"I have never seen anything like it," the worker said. "It was mob mentality."
The concession worker said the incidents began at 7 p.m. "All of a sudden a wave of kids were running through the Midway," he said.
The worker said there was police, including officers on horseback, as well as other security, but it was not enough.
"All of a sudden we were hearing whistles," the worker said.
Another eyewitness, a Children's Hospital of Wisconsin worker who was with his wife, a daughter, a friend of his daughter's, a brother and a sister-in-law, said they arrived at the Midway at 9:15 p.m.
At about 9:40 p.m., he said he saw the first of two fights broke out.
"I couldn't see who was fighting but there was an incredible mob mentality," he said. The eyewitness estimated the mob at between 30 to 50 black youths.
"We felt threatened. Without a doubt," the eyewitness said.
He said a game-booth operator allowed his group to seek shelter in the booth while fights broke out.
"Fortunately, the police on horses arrived quite quickly," the eyewitness said.
The eyewitness said he was the recipient of several racially charged comments from the black youths. At one point, he said, he approached a security guard and told him he had better get more security to the scene. He said he told the security officer that "trouble was brewing."
"The scariest part is that we were trapped between the midway and the exits by the mob, we had no way out. It was very frightening," the hospital worker said. "It was glaringly obvious something was going to happen long before it did," the hospital worker said.
One woman, a Marquette University employee, had left the fair with a friend. She said they had just turned onto S. 84th St., across the street from the fair and were headed north toward I-94 when they saw young black youths running between cars on the street.
"Then groups of kids began surging, all running at cars," she said. "Some kids ran up on the hood of the car in front of us, bounced on it and jumped off. That guy looked like he got out of the car. When he came back his face was bloody."
She said she wasn't sure if the man was able to get medical attention. "I saw somebody in the car with cellphones, probably calling police."
"It was scary and it was confusing," she added. "We didn't know what was happening. We didn't see any law enforcement officer."
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