Word has leaked out that late today, Wisconsin Capitol Police issued citations to three different citizens for alleged infractions of Wisconsin's administrative code related to peaceful protests inside the state Capitol.
Last week, recently hired Capitol Police Chief David Erwin ordered his officers to ticket people holding signs inside the building, but a judge's ruling in a separate case released around the same time made it clear that holding a sign is not a violation of the code. As many predicted, the Chief has decided to try a different section of the code.
Two citizens, including Madison resident Jason Huberty, were visited at their home late today and given citations alleging they violated 2.08(1)(b) by holding a banner over the railing overlooking the ground floor of the rotunda earlier in the day. Huberty explained what happened in a private message to me:
I was not given a warning. CPO Davis asked me to hold the sign with my hands. I replied that I was. He asked me not to hold it over the railing and said it was a safety concern. I said I couldn't hold it otherwise since my banner is 12' long. Davis said Ok and walked away. At no point was I given a warning or told I could receive a ticket.
The incident was alleged to have occurred today during the noon Solidarity Sing Along, a daily gathering of citizens who sing songs about union rights and social justice issues. Here is an example of the type of banner that is often displayed in the Capitol. This photo is from last year, not from today:
This is the relevant section alleged to have been violated:
Introduction of equipment and hazards.Those banners are allegedly a safety hazard. Really, Chief Erwin? Is that all you got?
(1)To provide a place of employment that is safe for employees and frequenters thereof, pursuant to s. 101.11, Stats., the department shall have the right to confiscate and dispose of any hazard to the life, health, safety or welfare of state employees or the public. The department shall have the right to correct or eliminate any hazardous situation arising out of any action by a tenant agency or individual and to charge the tenant agency or individual for costs incurred to correct or eliminate any hazardous situation or practice by a tenant agency. These hazards include, but are not limited to, the following:
(a) Supplies, goods or materials stored in the public corridors of the buildings and facilities managed or leased by the department.
(b) Any equipment, apparatus or machines which fail to comply with the state administrative code and local fire code, unless exempted. All equipment shall be approved by the department prior to delivery and installation.
In addition to the tickets issued for displaying banners in an unsafe manner, one man was ticketed late in the day as he walked through the Capitol for allegedly holding an unauthorized rally in the building last Friday. My assumption is the "rally" was the Sing Along, which numbered about 300 spontaneously gathered singers that day. The gentleman who was cited often conducts the singers. He was charged with violating 2.14(2)(v):
Rules of conduct....(2)Pursuant to s. 16.846, Stats., whoever does any of the following shall be subject to a forfeiture of not more than $500:...(v) Without approval of the department, conducts a picket, rally, parade or demonstration in those buildings and facilities managed or leased by the department or on properties surrounding those buildings....Friday's Sing Along was number 455. This is the first time a citation has been issued alleging the Sing Along is an unlawful rally.
Chief Erwin is new to the job of Capitol Police Chief, having previously served in the State Patrol unit that provides bodyguards for Governor Scott Walker and other "dignitaries." Since being appointed in July, Erwin has been quoted telling Capitol staffers that they can punch protesters if they wish, and has vowed to "crack down" on peaceful dissent inside the building. Sadly, he has not learned that Wisconsin citizens occupying the Capitol for 60 minutes every weekday have no intention of backing down. Every previous attempt at cracking down on dissenters has resulted in larger crowds.
As one of the singers told me last week, when you blow on a dandelion...
...you get more dandelions:
More information about today's events available in this article from the Wisconsin Citizens Media Cooperative.