Free Speech Arrested in Wisconsin: now 12 arrests for holding signs in rotunda

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Update – I was at the Capitol today at 4:30PM with about 7 others. Signs were held. Singing was conducted. No arrests occurred. We believe it’s because of a summary by Judge Remington which was released on Wednesday that makes it clear that a person holding a sign is not a “display” as defined by WI Statute 2.0(7). The summary pertains to Jeremy Ryan et al vs. Mike Huebsch et al. I acknowledge that I’m no attorney. Stay tuned.
Update 2: Corrected. Previously said 9 arrests. Am informed there are 12 total.

Eight people were arrested for holding signs in the rotunda on Wednesday September 5. One person –no–make that FOUR people — were arrested this morning, Thursday, for holding a sign. These arrests they believe – and ACLU of Wisconsin agrees – violate Article 1 Section 4 of the Wisconsin constitution, which is simply “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.”

Steve Elbow of Cap Times was present in the rotunda today. In his piece he wrote, “After the morning arrests, police apparently took a hands-off approach as a group of sign carriers practically dared them to make a move.”

Police had arrested sign holders, according to the MJS, “for holding up signs without getting permits”.

The Department of Administration created new rules in December of 2011 that define any group of 4 or more entering the Wisconsin capitol building as a “rally” and require those “rallies” to get a permit to be in the building. As the rules were originally presented, they also included a mandate that no “rally” noise may go above 90 decibels, that policing of the permitted groups would be charged to protesters at a rate of $50 per hour, and that where the “rallies” could be – their “public area” – was to be defined depending upon circumstance but that generally the “rallies” would be relegated to the ground and 1st floors of the Capitol. (A summary of the rules is in this somewhat glib Dec. 2nd blue cheddar post. Also, a write-up I did December 7, 2011 on the DOA disinformation session is here And for a little Christmas protest flashback, this is a video of about 700 people sing-protesting in the rotunda December 19th.).

A new Capitol police chief, David Erwin, was hired to replace former Chief Tubbs and began his duties in July. He vowed to institute the new DOA rules.

From WI State Journal: “Erwin is a 16-year veteran of the Wisconsin State Patrol and has been serving as a captain in charge of Gov. Scott Walker’s security with the Dignitary Protection Unit, the DOA said. He also served as commander of the State Patrol air support unit…Prior to his work for the State Patrol, Erwin served in United States Marine Corps, where he was an instructor sergeant.”

The following video of arrests is from Arthur Kohl-Riggs, former candidate for Wisconsin governor and admin for the facebook page SSWIDTMS.

He shared this message with the video:
“Today I was arrested for quietly holding a small sign in the rotunda that said We HEART Blood Donors.

7 other people were arrested as well.

This is just the beginning of a very severe crack down.”

ACLU of Wisconsin objects to the DOA’s constriction of freedom of speech.

From “Do Four People Make a Rally?”:
“The Constitution allows “reasonable time, place and manner” regulations. But such restrictions on the use of space must be content-neutral. By requiring permits for “rallies” of four or more people, the DOA and Capitol Police must look at the content of the event to determine whether or not a group in the Capitol is a “rally” promoting a cause versus a gathering of four people who want to talk about where to get lunch.

In addition, any restriction must be narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest. Chief Erwin suggests that permits are required for police to adequately accommodate public safety interests, but it is unreasonable to suggest that a group as small as four would overwhelm the police force. Further, 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.”

More reading:
After Capitol protesters are cited, Solidarity Singers plan to take act inside – Cap Times – Steve Elbow

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