Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Madison Police and Sheriffs Association Challenge Capitol Chief Erwin to End Arrests, Respect Rights.

The unrest and growing protests at the Capitol are the result of one man, Chief David Erwin. Things were pretty quiet before his arrival. It seems a few other professionals noticed as well:
In February of 2011, tens of thousands of Wisconsinites travelled to our state Capitol in order to have their voices heard.  It was truly a remarkable time in Wisconsin's history, where people from all sides of a political issue came together in one place to peacefully demonstrate.  There was an exceptional relationship between the protesters and on-duty law enforcement officers during this time, and Madison saw none of the strife or violence that has touched other protest movements nationwide.  
They were professional and courteous, and performed their duties impartially in order to protect the free speech rights of all parties involved.  These officers, from countless jurisdictions across Wisconsin, set an example for the world to follow regarding the role of the police during peaceful citizen protests.  Part of the reason they were able to accomplish this was that the leaders of these agencies were extremely sensitive to the free speech rights of all participants, and as such, did not place their officers in positions that would infringe upon those rights.

It is within this context that we have been watching with alarm the recent developments at the Wisconsin State Capitol.  In recent weeks, the Department of Administration (DOA) and the leadership within the Capitol Police have commenced enforcement action against peaceful protesters coming to the Capitol. Officers have been ordered to arrest and cite protesters whose only offense is the silent carrying of a sign. Other protesters have been cited for gathering for the "Solidarity Sing-along," a non-violent group of citizens who sing every day over the noon hour.  The Solidarity Singers have been particularly cognizant of the needs of other groups who also want to utilize the Capitol, and frequently relocate outside the Capitol to be respectful of those needs.  They are now being cited for assembly at the Capitol without a permit.

The right to free speech and the right to peaceful assembly are two of the fundamental rights upon which our democracy is based. We believe that the recent policy change at the Capitol presents a substantial safety risk to the officers who are tasked with its implementation. Simply stated, these officers are being forced into emotionally-charged confrontations that are neither necessary nor advisable. We are asking the Department of Administration, the leadership of the Capitol Police, and the Governor's Office to respect the core values and freedoms upon which this great state and nation were founded, and cease their infringement upon these freedoms. 
Chief Erwin's predictable and clueless response is a frightening example of how quickly freedom can fade in the hands of the Walker Authority. Here's WKOW coverage:

“It’s unfortunate that these associations would issue a statement about Capitol Police actions without ever contacting us.  Our officers would never judge another police department’s enforcement without knowing the facts of the situation.

“Everyone has access to the Capitol.  Wisconsin has a rich history of freedom of speech, which is a fundamental right that we uphold.  There are more than five million citizens in the state, and all should have the same opportunity to voice their views and opinions at our state’s Capitol.  This is not an issue about saying what you want – it’s about sharing the space at the Capitol and there is a process to do it.

“Last year was an unprecedented time in our state’s history and the officers of these departments assisted Capitol Police in keeping the environment safe for everyone involved.  We know that the officers understand that the crowds are no longer in the thousands, but a small group who we continue to work with to follow the process to reserve space for their protests.

“We are sworn to protect and serve the citizens of our state – as all other police departments in Wisconsin – and we will continue to do so.”

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