Crowd larger, citations issued during singalong at Capitol

Officials say 3 state charges were also issued

Published On: Jul 25 2013 12:30:45 PM CDT   Updated On: Jul 25 2013 07:26:32 PM CDT
MADISON, Wis. -

Rather than dissipate crowds, arrests being made at the Wisconsin State Capitol Thursday brought more singers and spectators to the building for a daily protest singalong.

Capitol Police issued 26 no-permit citations to singers Thursday, leading them off to their station in the Capitol basement and writing them $200 tickets.

Officials said three state charges were also issued -- one disorderly conduct, one disorderly conduct/resisting arrest, and one resisting arrest.

These arrests came a day after 25 no-permit citations were issued to 22 people.

Some came to the Capitol just to watch the scene, including a family visiting from Ohio who said they heard about the issue and brought their kids to watch history.

"There's beautiful music and a beautiful building and a valuable lesson about what it is to live in a democracy so I think it's great," said Zeb Page as his kids and wife, who is a Wisconsin native, watched the singalong and arrests.

Some stood ringing the rotunda, including Tom from Madison, who said he understood why the state was asking the group to get a permit.

"These people have a right to have their voice heard, but I think it needs to be done with more respect, in a meeting room or someplace like that," said Tom, who asked his last name not be used. "I just don't see that this is productive."

Bob Jambois, who has represented some of the singers in prior cases of violating the Capitol's permit policy, says the singers really don't know who may show up each day.

"The only thing that really unifies these people is two principles," said Jambois. "No. 1, they don't seem to like Governor Walker, and [two] they really like the First Amendment and don't like the idea of permits. They don't think that the First Amendment requires them to get a permit. They think the First Amendment is their permit."

Wisconsin Department of Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis issued a statement regarding Thursday's arrests.

"The Capitol Police are sworn officers who will continue to uphold the law, which has also been upheld by a federal judge. 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."

Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, watched Thursday and said the arrests are only driving more to join in.

"They had 35 or 40 people singing peacefully and quietly and they come in and use their thug tactics and we end up with 500 people here," said Cullen. "If they keep arresting people today there will be a thousand tomorrow. I don't know when they're going to get it."

Irving Smith of Madison was arrested twice and said the tickets weren't a deterrent.

"They may take away my condo and Mercedes, but otherwise no," Smith said. "Freedom of speech isn't cheap. There's no money in freedom of speech."

The arrests follow a ruling by a federal judge in a lawsuit involving the state and the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a federal lawsuit in February on behalf of a person who regularly gathers in the Capitol over the noon hour to sing protest songs.

U.S. District Judge William Conley issued a preliminary injunction barring the Walker administration from distinguishing the type of gathering for purposes of issuing a permit. Conley also barred enforcing the permit requirement for gatherings expected to draw 20 or fewer people.

The state put the new regulations in place following protests in 2011, where thousands of people occupied the Capitol to protest a new law restricting state unions.

Senator Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said she’s saddened by the arrests over the last two days.

“I don’t think this is an appropriate use of government resources. We have a lot of other problems,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin spoke with News3 Thursday and said the First Amendment should be cherished. She pointed a finger at Walker for “dividing our state rather than uniting it.”

The governor’s office did not return our requests for comments.