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Police clash with Capitol singers for second straight day

Police clash with Capitol singers for second straight day


For the second day in a row, police at the state Capitol arrested people gathered in the rotunda without a permit as part of the long-running noontime singalong in protest of Gov. Scott Walker.

Police issued 26 citations Thursday for gathering without a permit, state officials said. Three people also were arrested on tentative charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest or both.

A total of 27 people were cited or arrested on a tentative charge.

The arrest of 22 people Wednesday for staging a protest without a permit prompted many of the hundreds of people who filled the rotunda and lined the balcony above it to attend the Solidarity Singalong on Thursday, as they have at other times over the past two years.

“The Wisconsin Constitution protects free speech in this space,” said Peg Gardner, a children’s minister in Mequon, who attended Thursday’s singalong with daughter Graycie, 21, knowing they were risking arrest.

The clashes this week have been the first since a federal judge ruled this month in a lawsuit over an administration policy requiring groups of four or more in the Capitol to obtain a permit.

In issuing a preliminary injunction, Judge William Conley ruled the administration can’t require a permit for groups of 20 or fewer. But he otherwise kept in place the administration’s policy for larger groups. A trial is scheduled for January.

Larry Dupuis, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, which brought the case before Conley on behalf of an assistant UW-Madison professor, said he could not offer an opinion on whether the singers should seek a permit in light of the ruling.

But he said the court order allows the state to require a permit for groups larger than 20 people, though it does not order police or the DOA to enforce that rule.

“It’s their choice to do that,” Dupuis said.

With protesters in the rotunda and on other floors of the Capitol, a group of about a dozen officers entered the crowd in waves, handcuffing and removing several people at a time, while singers and supporters yelled, “Shame.”

A couple of people, including Irving Smith, 55, of Madison, were arrested a second time after returning to the rotunda.

“I’m going to be here every day because I believe in the Constitution,” Smith said.

Smith and others said the state and U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to free speech and that a permit should not be required to exercise that right.

“We’re not a group,” Linda Hedenblad of Madison, who was among those arrested, said in explaining why the singers do not get a permit. “Everyone knows you can come and sing here at noon.”

Before they began making arrests, Capitol Police erected a sign in the middle of the rotunda stating they were declaring the event illegal and asking people to leave or risk arrest.

“The Capitol Police are sworn officers who will continue to uphold the law, which has also been upheld by a federal judge,” DOA spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said in a statement. “If the noontime singers would get a permit, then they could continue their activities without any arrests or citations.

“They are the only group being cited as they are the only group who has not applied for a permit for their regularly scheduled events at the Capitol rotunda. The question to ask is why they refuse to apply for a permit.”

Marquis said 381 permits have been issued so far this year to a variety of groups. Ten were denied for various reasons, including because a space was already booked.


Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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