Archive | September, 2012

Forward For Liberty Blog Has Moved!

25 Sep

Missing the Forward for Liberty blog? That’s because it has moved!

You can now find the most recent Wisconsin civil liberties news and opinion from the ACLU of Wisconsin on our brand new website: The Forward for Liberty blog now lives with other information such as how to become a member of the ACLU of Wisconsin, what kinds of community education programs we offer, and the news from our legal department.

Supporting us has never been easier. Visit today to donate and keep our important watchdog efforts going.

This Week’s Citations at Capitol Abridge Our Right to Freely Assemble

11 Sep

The Wisconsin State Capitol Police began ticketing protesters in the Capitol Rotunda last week for holding up signs without a permit. According to a Department of Administration spokesperson, on Monday police issued more tickets both for “unlawful display of a sign and not having a permit.” The citations were served at the protesters home to “avoid confrontation and maintain order at the Capitol.”  

Since the extraordinary events of February 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin has stepped up its efforts to protect the free speech rights of all Wisconsin residents at the Capitol and our volunteer legal observers are now at the Capitol Rotunda every day during the noon hour.

Today, in response to the State Capitol Police Chief’s new enforcement strategy, Chris Ahmuty, Executive Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin made the following statement:

David Erwin, the State Capitol Police Chief since July 2012, has had a rocky start.  His on-again, off-again, on-again enforcement of regulations governing events and protests in the Capitol Rotunda suggests problems. Either he lacks an understanding of our constitutional rights or is willing to abridge the rights of all Wisconsin residents to peaceable assembly and free speech at the Capitol. 

Monday’s tickets are unconstitutional. It is ludicrous to say that it is illegal to hold up a sign or that groups as small as four people need to apply for a permit 72 hours in advance if they are promoting any cause. 

The police served the tickets at the protesters homes. This suggests that the police know the identity of many of protesters who regularly exercise their rights at the Capitol. It also suggests that this new enforcement effort is a high priority for the Capitol Police. The ACLU believes that there are better uses for the Capitol Police force’s limited resources. 

In a related matter, in an interview posted on on September 10, 2012 and on the eve of the anniversary of September 11, remarks from Chief Erwin have exposed another problem. According to the site, Erwin said, “And so we have a group of people that come here, and last week they were holding signs and they are part of this group that, for lack of a better word, are terrorizing people at this Capitol.” 

It is unclear what group of people he’s talking about; it may just be people who allegedly are disrespectful or call others names. Regardless, in our post-9/11 world, it is inappropriate to accuse someone of terrorizing others in this loose way. It is hard to imagine former Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs making such an accusation. Erwin admits that Tubbs did a great job during the large-scale protests as evidenced by the small number of arrests and the fact that no injuries occurred under Tubbs’ leadership.  Perhaps Erwin needs to learn how to defuse situations rather than engage in name calling. 

Victory! Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Civil Rights finds state is violating civil rights rules

4 Sep

If federal transportation money is spent on expanding highways while dollars for inner-city public transportation are slashed, how can transit-dependent people – who are much more likely to be people of color – get to their jobs? What impact does expanding highways to the suburbs have on a highly segregated city?

These are the kinds of questions groups like the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation, the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin and the Midwest Environmental Advocates asked the Wisconsin Department of Transportation back in April of 2011. We raised these questions in the name of racial and environmental justice because we knew the state was headed in the wrong direction on transportation priorities. And we learned a big part of the reason these issues weren’t being dealt with fairly was that WisDOT had simply not followed federal rules that require it to have a plan to implement civil rights requirements – and to update that plan every year. Instead, we learned in 2011 that WisDOT hadn’t had a Title VI plan since 2004 – and officials at the Federal Highway Administration office in Madison knew it and let them disregard the rules.

That’s simply the wrong thing to do. When states use hundreds of millions of federal tax dollars, they have to make sure that the benefits of those funds are shared fairly. And it isn’t fair to add to urban sprawl and ignore public transit – especially when the state knows that communities of color depend on transit much more than other groups. It means making sure the state follows Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and ensuring that transportation programs do not effectively discriminate against people of color. In the highly segregated City of Milwaukee, expanding suburban highways while cutting public transit will keep transit-dependent people from jobs, medical care, affordable housing and other needs.

Last month, after a yearlong review, the Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Civil Rights in Washington DC agreed with us: they found that the state was “deficient” for not complying with the civil rights rules.  Civil rights officials gave the state 90 days to improve. We’ll be keeping an eye on them as well.

And our other work for racial and environmental justice in southeastern Wisconsin isn’t over: earlier this month we filed a lawsuit in federal court over a highway expansion plan to rebuild and widen the Zoo Interchange, a plan that completely ignored the transit needs of urban communities.

Transit advocates believe that we must have a more balanced plan. When it comes to our tax dollars, fairness means that the most disfranchised in Wisconsin aren’t denied investment in their transportation options.

The story was featured in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Wisconsin Public Radio statewide headlines today, as well as a wire story in Sheboygan, Wausau and Pierce County. It also got a mention in the Political Environment blog. Attorney Karyn Rotker was also interviewed on 1290 AM WMCS on Tuesday.