The Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association, a union that represents Wisconsin Capitol Police, the University of Wisconsin Police, and other public employees, has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn Wisconsin Act 10. The Act signed into law last year by Governor Scott Walker effectively ended collective bargaining rights of most public employees in Wisconsin.
In addition to preparing their lawsuit, the Capitol Police have been very busy since September handing out citations to peaceful participants of the Solidarity Sing Along, a daily protest event that has been held over the noon hour every weekday since March 11, 2011, but they've been just a bit friendlier toward the singers since their lawsuit was announced last Tuesday.
A judge in a similar suit brought by the state's largest teachers union and some City of Milwaukee workers recently found most provisions of the law violated free speech, association, and equal protection rights guaranteed by the Wisconsin and U.S. Constitutions. That decision is being appealed by Wisconsin's Republican Attorney General but has allowed a number of local unions to negotiate extensions to existing contracts while the appeal is pending. The decision did not automatically extend to other state employees, however, which explains why other unions are filing similar lawsuits.
The crack down against the peaceful singers was initiated by the new Chief of the Capitol Police, David Erwin. Erwin is Governor Scott Walker's former bodyguard and was appointed to the Chief position by Walker after the former Chief resigned to take a job coordinating emergency response preparedness for Dane County.
Many of the rank and file Capitol Police officers are opposed to writing and issuing citations against the Solidarity Sing Along participants, but are not willing to jeopardize their jobs and pensions by refusing orders from Chief Erwin. A few of the officers have told individual singers that they are on "the same side." Other singers who have been cited have noticed blatant spelling and factual errors on their citations, almost as if the officers are intentionally screwing up to have the citations dismissed.
One officer, when asked if Governor Walker and Chief Erwin might retaliate against the rank and file because of the new lawsuit, laughed it off by saying he would sue the state if any retaliation occurred and would retire a rich man.
I wish them success, but it's an uneasy truce between the singers and the officers. The truth is it's a pain in the ass to deal with Erwin's flurry of what are essentially traffic tickets. We want the officers to show some guts and stand up to their little dictator Erwin the way we've been standing up to Walker. Some of the officers just wish we would go away and they resent our persistence and feel we've made our point. I get frustrated at their willingness to play along, but I understand they've been placed in the unenviable position of having to act like fools, standing guard over us because Chief Erwin thinks it will intimidate us into going away.
The Capitol Police need their union back to defend them against the abuse they're taking from Chief Erwin. It must be embarrassing for the officers to write incident reports filled with bizarre claims about banners being potential safety hazards, or that a person holding a sign in the Capitol is somehow blocking access to the corridors. My personal favorite is the report detailing two of the four citations I have received. That report alleges disorderly conduct and blocking access inside the Capitol. My offense? An officer claims I was seen "walking in a circle" in the Capitol rotunda.
But sometimes I remind myself it's not a game. My alleged circular locomotion happened on the same day the Capitol Police were ordered to arrest a disabled veteran after she dared to object to Chief Erwin's propaganda campaign against the peaceful singers, claiming to local media that the singers were terrorizing children in the rotunda. Erwin's lies were debunked here. The inept officers ended up aggravating the disabled vet's heart condition as they attempted to arrest her, and she was taken by ambulance to a local hospital where she was treated and eventually released.
I wrote about that incident here on Daily Kos shortly after it happened, having witnessed most of it from a safe distance and talking to others who were accompanying the veteran that day when she was ambushed by the police on her way out of the Capitol. Similar accounts of the incident were published on other blogs and media outlets. Naturally, the story got a lot of attention and was probably very embarrassing for Chief Erwin. One hour after my story hit the recommended list here, the Capitol Police called my home phone asking my wife if they had reached the home of the same "G__ G__" who sings at the Capitol. She told them she had nothing to say to them and hung up. I was not home at the time.
Is that a coincidence? Perhaps. Coincidence or not, I received two citations in the mail from the Capitol Police a few days later. This is what a police state looks like.
The tally so far is over 100 citations issued to people who have participated in one or more song circles. Every recipient has pleaded not guilty and requested a jury trial. Let them choke on their bogus tickets. We are quite confident that the citations will not stand. Most importantly, we're still there every day singing and displaying our signs and banners. We sing and smile, but deep down it hurts to see our beloved Wisconsin's reputation being soiled, and it's a little scary to think about what Walker and Erwin might do next.