“The right of the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, and to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall never be abridged.”
- Article I, Section 4 of the Wisconsin Constitution
As the Capitol Police and the Department of Administration resume their "crackdown" on free speech at the Wisconsin Capitol, the ASO stands in opposition to these inconsistent and unnecessary arrests and penalties. The First Amendment allows individuals to speak freely and independently, but also on behalf of a much larger unity, one that binds us together as a nation. It is the commonality of the United States, regardless of your race or income level, you have the right to speak up.
In particular, the Capitol Police and the Department of Administration have targeted the Solidarity SIng Along for presence in the Rotunda every weekday at noon. We ask people get their bodies to the Capitol any time possible this week to support them and stand against this crackdown.
The regressive policies in place now treat people who respect and value open government as though they are treasonous.
The Rotunda is a public forum, and is designed to be so.
The Wisconsin government now requires citizens to get permission to protest the government -- that's not how it's supposed to work. When people are expressing their opposition to state policies, the department that administers those policies should not control what they are allowed to say, and where. Demonizing and criminalizing people who silently hold a sign or a banner must stop.
Police are not employed by the state to protect the lawmakers the DOA favors or under the guise of protecting property. They are posted at the Capitol purportedly for public safety, which they commonly violate while arresting people. "The First Amendment requires and the DOA’s own rules allow for defined, spontaneous events. It is the responsibility of the Capitol Police to have staffing plans in place to have the flexibility to protect the safety of all announced and unannounced visitors to the building," the ACLU of Wisconsin states.
Reactionary restrictions on protest rights are restrictions on First Amendment rights -- an attempt to prosecute dissent. Chief Erwin came into the job with an aggressive attempt to quell people's expression. Working hand in glove with the Department of Administration, he has instructed his troopers to continue their overreach in suppressing dissent. This is a clear intent to intimidate people from coming to the Capitol to raise their voice, policies intended to have a chilling effect on free speech and free assembly.
The police are enforcing administrative rules that are blatantly unconstitutional and are grossly unreasonable. The tactics and execution leave many questions that the DOA has continued to refuse to answer. The DOA's decisions remain arbitrary, as executed by law enforcement who cannot tell you on a given day what or why those rules are as they are. Too much discretion is given to the Capitol Police for incredibly vague guidelines people are expected to follow. Since arrests for protests started at the Capitol in earnest in May, 2011, inconsistent enforcement and prosecution has been the norm. Tickets are thrown out in court as the alleged offenses are often so vague, a judge can't tell which part of the code those arrested are supposedly violating. The Capitol Police continue to have "too much discretion in terms of who has to post a bond or get insurance — and then the coverage of fees for extra protection," says ACLU of Wisconsin director Chris Ahmuty.
People defending their free speech rights in court have been barred from using the Constitution in their own defense.
In a ruling on January 17, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Julie Genovese said, “Determining interpretation of administrative rules is a question of law. Whether or not (the rule) is constitutional, it is a question of constitutional fact” which must be raised and decided directly by the court. She claims “instructing the jury on standards they will not apply will only confuse the jury.”
In response to this legal congestion, former Kenosha County Di strict Attorney Robert Jambois said, “If we raise a constitutional issue directly, it will get kicked up to the State Supreme Court,” which he characterized as, “hostile territory for people who are not conservative Republicans.” Jambois also states, “They’ve been throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks,” he says. “and so far nothing has been sticking. It’s all been sliding off the wall.”
Delivering tickets to people's homes and workplaces is unacceptable and a clear attempt at intimidation. Citations in October, 2012 alone: http://wcmcoop.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/oct121.jpg
Individuals have been singled out time and time again, though the Sing Along has no "leader," per se. The spirit of Joe McCarthy lives on in the Capitol Police, with a "watchlist" of Solidarity Sing Along attendees, including Assembly Representative Chris Taylor. An ACLU observer was warned by the Capitol Police she'd be taken to jail for writing down their badge numbers.
On September 10, 2012, Capitol Police Chief Erwin told right-wing news outlet Wisconsin Reporter, “And so we have a group of people that come here, and last week they were holding signs and they are part of this group that, for lack of a better word, are terrorizing people at this Capitol.” Erwin makes the case in the interview that the standard of free speech for the Wisconsin Capitol is that that wouldn't startle a 5-year-old girl. In another fearmongering move, "panic buttons" were installed in Capitol offices, at the cost of $103,172 to taxpayers.
As the Madison chapter of the National Lawyers' Guild noted of a recent DOA press release, it "signaled a strong belief in Chief Erwin’s crackdown, the Department of Justice’s many dismissals and apparent reluctance to take these cases to trial demonstrates a lack of confidence in the speech-chilling policy."
The ASO stands strong for First Amendment rights, and for peaceable gatherings in the most public of places, The People's House, the only place where we can redress our grievances to the people who are enacting such grievous policies.