Only one person was arrested at the Wisconsin State Capitol Thursday. That’s down from the 15 to 30 arrests on days when an unlawful event was declared since July 24, 2013. That’s when Scott Walker’s Capitol Police began handcuffing, arresting and issuing citations to people singing out their dissent against the socially regressive policies of the Walker Administration.
More than 200 people were in the rotunda for the noontime Solidarity Sing Along on Thursday. The declaration of an unlawful event by the disembodied voice of Chief David Erwin through the LRAD sound cannon happened later than usual -- close to 12:15 -- and it wasn’t until 12:30 that Nora Cusack was approached by a group of four officers on the upper floor of the rotunda.
Cusack has been observing the hour-long event for several weeks ever since she heard that people were being arrested. She clearly identifies herself as an observer by holding an 8.5” x 11” sign that says, “I am observing only.”
Yesterday on the flip side of that sign was another that read, "Observers will not receive citations -- DOA, August 7, 2013."
That is a reference to a statement made by Department of Administration Public Information Officer Stephanie Marquis the day after State Assembly Rep. Sondy Pope (D-Middleton) was warned that if she did not leave the rotunda of the building she works in, she would be subject to arrest.
Most of the nearly 300 arrests that have occurred since July 24 took place on the ground floor. But yesterday, the group of four police officers walked up one floor to apprehend Nora Cusack. They warned her that she had been identified as a participant in an unlawful event and told her to leave or they would arrest her. Cusack explained that she was intentionally not singing, clapping or even tapping her toes; that she was simply there to observe.
Nevertheless, she was handcuffed and taken by elevator down to the basement lunchroom for processing. She was given a citation for “unlawful assembly” with the added explanation, “bring signs supported by standards or sticks.” The citation references the new emergency administrative rules, Wis. Admin. Code 2.14(2)(vm)(5).
Cusack asked the officers why they wrote that on her ticket since she was holding the small sign in her hands. She was told that holding a sign was a violation of the administrative code, leaving her to wonder whether the Capitol Police were construing her arms to be sticks or standards.
Nora Cusack's citation. Photo by Rebecca Kemble
Capitol Police and Department of Justice assertions that carrying a sign into the Capitol violates the administrative code were shot down by Dane County Judge Frank D. Remington nearly a year ago in a case that case challenged the Capitol Police’s citations for people displaying signs in the rotunda in reference to Wis. Admin. Code 2.07(2). On September 5, 2012 in a ruling on a summary judgment motion Judge Remington wrote, “The term ‘displayed’ implies something like a freestanding exhibit showcased in the Capitol, not an individual holding a handmade sign over their head comparing the governor to a character in a comic book.”
"UNINTIMIDATED" signs mocking Scott Walker's upcoming memoir by the same title. Ironically, both Walker and Capitol Police Chief Erwin appear to be intimidated by the Solidarity Sing Along evidenced by their overreaction to it and their failure to communicate with the press about their actions. Photo by Rebecca Kemble
This latest arrest is one more in a long line of bizarre and over-the-top police actions against peaceful citizens at the Capitol in past month. From the first day’s arrest of my octogenarian parents to the manhandling of a videographer and the high-profile arrests of teenagers, firefighters and The Progressive’s own editor, Matt Rothschild , these constitutionally questionable actions of arresting people for exercising their First and Fourth amendment rights in a traditional public forum could come back to haunt arresting officers should any of the arrestees pursue false arrest charges against them.
Rebecca Kemble reports for The Progressive magazine and website. She also participates when she can in the Solidarity Sing Along.