Madison Capitol Police Crackdown Begins

The crackdown on peaceful protesters at the Wisconsin State Capitol promised by Capitol Police Chief David Erwin began today as eight people were arrested, handcuffed, and issued citations for displaying signs in the rotunda. They were charged with holding signs without a permit under section 2.07(2) of the Wisconsin Administrative Code:

“No displays, signs, banners, placards, decorations or graphic or artistic material may be erected, attached, mounted or displayed within or on the building or the grounds of any state office building or facility without the express written authority of the department. Any graphic or artistic material advertising, promoting, or identifying a commercial enterprise or a political activity is prohibited except as indicated in sub. (4). Any unauthorized material shall be removed and disposed of by the department. The department may set reasonable time limits on permitted activities.”

Two of the “signs” were actually t-shirts being distributed by the organization Muslims for Life that helped to promote the American Red Cross blood drive taking place on the first floor. Another sign said, “We ♥Blood Donors,” and yet another was a copy of Article I, Section 4, of the Wisconsin Constitution, which reads:

“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.”

Ironically, all of these arrests were made within a few feet of a monument to the Wisconsin Constitution that displays a hand-written copy of the document under glass.

Jason Huberty holding his citation next to the state constitution. Photo by Rebecca Kemble.
Jason Huberty holding his citation next to the state constitution. Photo by Rebecca Kemble.

All of the sign holders were standing quietly on the opposite side of the building from where the blood drive was taking place, and they did not interfere with the work of the Red Cross. Several even donated blood after their arrests.

Jason Huberty, 36, was one of those arrested. He says the police warned him and the other protesters “to never hold a sign ever again in this building or we would be taken to county jail and charged with criminal disorderly conduct.”

Arrested with Huberty were other veteran protesters: Will Gruber, Arthur Kohl-Riggs, Genie Ogden, Bart Munger, Joe Skulan, Christine Taylor, and Jeri Troia.

Huberty says the police went through Taylor’s purse and asked her about her prescriptions.

Several of the protesters plan to reassert their rights to free speech tomorrow by showing up with signs.

The Madison chapter of the National Lawyers Guild is ready to defend people arrested for exercising free speech in the public areas of the Capitol. “Attorneys affiliated with the Madison National Lawyers Guild stand ready to defend anyone who suffers arrest as the result of over-zealous enforcement of the Capitol access policy,” read a press release from the group.

The Wisconsin Department of Administration released a press release on the arrests, saying that the protesters were arrested “for displaying banners during a permitted event in the rotunda.” It added that “the officers requested the protestors remove their signs and gave them the option to continue their unpermitted activity on the outdoor Capitol grounds.” Those who didn’t comply were “were arrested and given civil citations.”

Huberty calls the threat of a charge of criminal disorderly conduct for carrying a sign “pretty outrageous.”