It's time to stick up for journalism.
By Rebecca Kemble, Edward Kuharski, Arthur Kohl-Riggs and Nicole Schulte
At 4:20pm this afternoon, Jason Huberty answered a knock on his door. It was two Capitol Police officers calling to deliver citations to him and his partner, Lisa Wells. They were each cited for two violations of Wisconsin Administrative Code: 2.14(2)(v) “obstruct access, passage, etc. (no permit)” and 2.08(1)(b) “holding signs over railings-prohibited.” Earlier in the day, Huberty and Wells had joined dozens of other defenders of free speech and assembly at the Capitol for the Solidarity Sing Along.
At 5:30 pm Brandon Barwick was walking through the Capitol building when Capitol Police officer Mitch Steingraeber called him down to the Capitol Police Station to deliver his citation for violating WI Administrative Code 2.14(2)(v) “obstruct access, passage, etc. (no permit).” Barwick is a long-time participant in the Solidarity Sing Along.
In the wake of last week’s highly publicized arrests of eleven citizens for holding signs in the Capitol rotunda, the Capitol Police have apparently changed tactics. Instead of the over-the-top displays of force used last week where eight to ten officers handcuffed and arrested alleged violators of the Department of Administration administrative code that prohibits displaying a sign without a permit, today officers videotaped the alleged offenses and hand delivered citations to people at home hours after the alleged offenses.
Huberty, Wells and Barwick all say that they had not been warned that their behavior was in violation of the code. Officers made vague requests of Huberty and Wells to hold the banners with their hands instead of securing them with heavy objects. They complied with the requests. Barwick did not even speak with a Capitol Police officer until he was given the citation later in the afternoon.
Barwick reports that Officer Steingraeber told him police sought him out at his home before chancing upon him in the Capitol. He does not understand what rule he violated or why the police would go so far as to seek him out at home. The police had no answers for him. They told him simply that this was how they have been instructed to issue citations, and recommended that he speak with the Department of Administration public relations staff or Chief David Erwin himself.
Erwin had left for the day and was not returning phone calls. When Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) met with Erwin and DoA spokesperson Wendy Coomer last week she asked them to specify the behaviors for which people would be cited. They did not give her an answer and instead walked out of the meeting.
Huberty, Wells and Barwick all assert that singing and holding banners in the Capitol rotunda falls under constitutional protections for free speech and freedom of assembly. When asked why he participates in the Sing Along, Barwick said, “Scott Walker’s policies are offensive to me, my family, my community and overall humanity.” He added, “I have a constitutional right to be here and have my voice heard.”
All three people cited today plan to challenge the citations in court on September 21.
Reprinted with permission from the Wisconsin Citizens Media Cooperative, wcmcoop.com.