By Harvey Wasserman
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More than a dozen people were arrested Monday, August 5, at the Wisconsin State Capitol for singing out their grievances against the Scott Walker Administration in the rotunda without a permit. This is the second week that Capitol Police have declared the Solidarity Sing Along an unlawful event and taken people out of the rotunda in handcuffs to issue them a $200.50 citation.
During the arrests, Officer Michael J. Syphard grabbed videographer Arthur Kohl-Riggs and threw him to the ground, afterwards calling him "a drama queen" and saying that Kohl-Riggs fell on purpose.
According to on-line court records, last year Syphard was charged with the crimes of Disorderly Conduct (a misdemeanor) and Intimidate Victim/Use or Attempt Force (a felony). Those records indicate that he entered a guilty plea to the Disorderly Conduct charge and the other charge was dismissed. Records indicate that his case remains open, having been referred to the Deferred Prosecution Program.
At least four of the people arrested for singing without a permit were handed long-form legal complaints against them signed by assistant attorneys general containing multiple charges of conducting a rally and/or chalking on the sidewalk dating back several months.
This represents a new strategy. The Capitol Police compile video evidence of alleged violations of administrative rules by one person and send them off to the Department of Justice, where assistant attorneys general then lump the charges together in a single case so they only have to go to court once.
The Capitol Police continue to send citations out to people in the mail as well.
Last week 70-year-old Vietnam veteran Will Williams was arrested for being a participant in an unlawful event. During his arrest he slipped down a set of marble stairs while in handcuffs and was injured. Before the ambulance came to take him to the VA Hospital, Capitol Police gathered his personal data. His citation showed up in the mail at home on Monday.
The Walker Administration's heavy-handed tactics for silencing political dissent seem to be backfiring. Not only have the arrests garnered negative national media attention, it appears as though the officers on the front lines are unable to handle the job given to them. Mishandling medical emergencies and throwing people to the floor will only come back to bite the officers involved.
Initial court appearances for the people arrested on the first day of the crackdown are coming up this Friday. Anyone wishing to support their legal defense fund can donate at www.solidaritysingalong.org.
Rebecca Kemble reports for The Progressive magazine and website. She also participates when she can in the Solidarity Sing Along.