MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - The Wisconsin State Fair imposed heightened security on Friday, a day after fighting between groups of youths on and around the midway and attacks on police officers resulted in 24 arrests, fair officials said.
The violence on Thursday night began with fights between groups of African-American youths at the fair, located between Milwaukee and the suburb of West Allis, fair officials said.
Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said the fighting later degenerated into what he described as racially charged violence outside the fair, when the youths fought with white motorists stuck in traffic.
“This was reprehensible, violent behavior, for which there is no excuse,” Flynn said, adding that “some people were singled out for violence because of their race.”
He gave no details on what may have sparked the initial fighting or the later violence. Citing Milwaukee police, fair spokeswoman Patrice Harris said four people were hurt outside the fair grounds.
Seven officers were also wounded in the violence, and two were hospitalized from blows to the head, fair officials said.
The fair runs until August 14.
James Hall, the head of the Milwaukee chapter of the NAACP, said the incident was troubling and that its root causes needed to be addressed within the black community.
Milwaukee, a city segregated largely along racial lines, has seen heightened racial tensions this summer with the occurrence of other similar incidents.
“We need to nip this in the bud, or it’s going to escalate into something much, much worse,” said Ralph Hollmon, President of the Milwaukee Urban League. “We cannot allow this to divide our community along racial lines.”
Wisconsin State Police were working with State Fair police and West Allis authorities to ensure order for the remaining days of the event, fair officials said.
Starting on Friday at 5 p.m., youths under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian aged 21 or older, said Wisconsin State Fair CEO Rick Frenette.
Fair officials said the youths involved in the fighting appeared to be at the fair to cause trouble, rather than to go on rides or participate in similar activities.
“Certain individuals and groups of youths chose to disrupt the evening activities,” Frenette said.
Writing and reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Additional reporting by John Rondy; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Alex Dobuzinskis