Police union calls on state to stop crackdown on peaceful activists at Capitol
Post by Emily Mills on 9/19/2012 1:15pm
Two unions representing law enforcement agents in Dane County issued a statement on Wednesday condemning recent actions taken by the Department of Administration and leadership of the Capitol Police toward peaceful protesters at the Capitol building.
“We are asking the DOA, 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,” reads the joint statement of the Madison Professional Police Officers Association and the Dane County Deputy Sheriffs Association.
The release commends the conduct of law enforcement at the Capitol during the large scale demonstrations that spanned weeks and months in early 2011: “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.”
The unions also stress that their “grievance is not with the officers of the Capitol Police,” pointing out that those men and women have “performed admirably for over a year and a half under very trying circumstances.”
In recent weeks newly promoted Capitol Police Chief David Erwin has made a point of much more strict enforcement of rules implemented by the DOA in December requiring that any gathering of four or more people at the Capitol seek a permit, and banning holding signs or banners in the rotunda.
Civil rights groups had called on the DOA to hold off enforcing those rules until challenges to their constitutionality had been settled, one way or another.
Erwin, a former marine and head of the Diplomatic Protection Agency under Gov. Scott Walker, has instead been cracking down on protest actions and assemblies at the Capitol, mostly involving the Solidarity Sing-Along.
The group has met almost every weekday since the protests started, either in the rotunda or just outside, to sing songs during the noon hour. Over the last two weeks several participants at the event have been issued citations for their involvement – some for holding signs, others for “obstructing access without a permit.”
At least one person had the citation hand-delivered to him by officers at his workplace, and three others had theirs delivered to their homes.
Last Friday police attempted to arrest a disabled veteran who’d given what she called an impromptu speech in the rotunda that day. The woman, Dawn Henke, suffers from a chronic heart condition and passed out upon being approached by a group of officers who promptly put her in handcuffs.
According to WTDY:
“They came right for me,” said Henke. “The officer told me right away that I (was) under arrest. He handcuffed my hands. Within a few seconds I started to feel very light headed. My chest started to hurt.”
Minutes later, an ambulance was called, but video confirms she remained in handcuffs even after losing consciousness.
“When I saw the doctor, he did say that this was brought on by the stress of being rushed by all of these officers,” said Henke. “They actually sprinted down the hallway towards me.”
In a statement released a few hours after the incident, the Department of Administration said officers intended to cite Henke with "disorderly conduct and no permit” and her medical emergency was “unrelated to the detention.”
Henke has yet to receive any citations from the Capitol Police.
Henke said her speech came in reaction to a recent interview given by Erwin to conservative media outfit Wisconsin Reporter in which he said that activists, “for lack of a better word, are terrorizing people at this Capitol.”
Emily Mills is Editor-At-Large for Dane101, as well as Editor of Our Lives Magazine. She is also a freelance writer, photographer, actor, and musician (drummer and singer in local band Little Red Wolf). Originally from several states up and down the Midwest Emily has called Madison home since 2000. Contact her at