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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 wisconsinreporter.com 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. 

Do Four People Make a Rally? ACLU of WI Asks in Response to Miller-Erwin Letter Exchange

31 Aug

On August 28, Wisconsin State Senator Mark Miller sent a letter to Capitol Police Chief David Erwin expressing his concerns that the citizens of Wisconsin should have a free and open access to the Capitol building. In a letter of response by Capitol Police Chief David Erwin on August 30, Chief Erwin outlines why he believes permit requirements for political protests are reasonable.

Ultimately the ACLU of Wisconsin believes the new rules issued by the Wisconsin State Department of Administration, including the requirement for groups as few as four people to secure a permit for a “rally… for the purpose of actively promoting any cause,” are not reasonable. Particularly if the rules are applied to the Solidarity Sing Along which takes place at a reasonable time (the hours between noon and 1:00 p.m. are defined in the DOA’s rules as not being normal working hours) and place such as in the rotunda, where state of Wisconsin has long allowed the public to hold rallies of all sizes.

“Chief Erwin said the permit process has been in place for decades,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Communications Director Stacy Harbaugh. “However, I have been organizing volunteer legal observers to witness protests at the Capitol over the past six years and it has been my experience that Capitol Police have asked for voluntary compliance in filling out permits and in practice have only required permits for protests that require extra staffing, closed streets, access to building electricity and other logistical needs. There has typically been reasonable accommodation for protests large and small, planned or spontaneous.”

The Constitution allows “reasonable time, place and manner” regulations. But such restrictions on the use of space must be content-neutral. By requiring permits for “rallies” of four or more people, the DOA and Capitol Police must look at the content of the event to determine whether or not a group in the Capitol is a “rally” promoting a cause versus a gathering of four people who want to talk about where to get lunch.

In addition, any restriction must be narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest. Chief Erwin suggests that permits are required for police to adequately accommodate public safety interests, but it is unreasonable to suggest that a group as small as four would overwhelm the police force. Further, the First Amendment requires and the DOA’s own rules allow for defined, spontaneous events. It is the responsibility of the Capitol Police to have staffing plans in place to have the flexibility to protect the safety of all announced and unannounced visitors to the building.

The participants of the Solidarity Sing Along have worked with the Capitol police and staff to accommodate multiple users of the Capitol rotunda. This relationship can and should continue to meet the needs of police to make narrowly tailored, content-neutral space management decisions.

As for the public safety concerns outlined in Erwin’s letter, we believe it is the responsibility of the Capitol Police to ensure that the Capitol building is both a safe place to work and for demonstrators to engage in peaceful speech activity in the rotunda.  To threaten to enforce a permit requirement against peaceful, cooperative protesters on the basis of safety concerns arising from the alleged actions of a few individuals would punish those engaging in protected speech activity. If criminal harassment or intimidation is occurring against Capitol workers or singers alike, it is the responsibility of police to address it, not crackdown on peaceful protest.

The ACLU of Wisconsin will continue to coordinate volunteer legal observers to be witnesses of events at the Capitol over the weekday noon hour and monitor the enforcement of administrative rules.

Update: First Amendment Rights Affirmed in Glendale, Bayshore Mall

29 May

Collecting petition signatures and picketing on public sidewalks are classic examples of freedoms protected by the First Amendment. But Bayshore mall security ordered people who were collecting signatures from voters to recall the Governor and Lt. Governor on the sidewalks in front of the mall to leave. In another example, someone protesting the business practices of one of the mall’s merchants was arrested for picketing on the sidewalk. During the recall petition season, there were discussions around the state about where people had the freedom to collect signatures, including in the Milwaukee suburbs.

After mall management claimed it could control First Amendment activities because it “owned” the sidewalks along Port Washington Road and Silver Spring Drive, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation and volunteer attorneys took action to advocate for the rights of petitioners and picketers.

“A sidewalk is a sidewalk,” said Jeffrey Perzan, who was ordered to move by Glendale police while he collected recall petition signatures on the sidewalk along Port Washington Road. “The First Amendment protects my right to persuade my neighbors and the public to take action in the public places where they already congregate.”  Another protester, Lincoln Rice, picketed against Trader Joe’s business practices on the sidewalk outside its store and was arrested and issued a trespassing citation.

In December, the ACLU of Wisconsin opposed the actions by mall management and city police because every court to consider similar questions has held that private businesses cannot insulate themselves from criticism by artificially designating public sidewalks as private property. Despite a letter from the ACLU, mall security and Glendale police ordered Mr. Perzan to move from an allegedly “private” sidewalk along Port Washington Road as recently as January 6, 2012.

With the help of attorney Jim Gramling, citations were dismissed and negotiations with Bayshore Town Center and the City of Glendale  resulted in an acknowledgement of citizens’ First Amendment rights to picket and petition on public sidewalks.

“This is a victory for the most basic form of free speech,” said Gramling.  “Sidewalks and parks are places where people traditionally have exchanged ideas and tried to persuade their neighbors to adopt their views. And unlike other forums for expression, like television or the radio, they can be used without charge, so anyone, rich or poor, can seek an audience there.”

The perimeter sidewalks where First Amendment activity is permitted include:  (1) the entire sidewalk on the north side of and parallel to Silver Spring Drive from Port Washington Road on the west to Lydell Avenue on the east;  (2) the entire sidewalk on the east side of and parallel to Port Washington Road from Silver Spring Drive on the south to Carrigan Drive on the north; and (3) the sidewalks on the west side of and parallel to Lydell Avenue from Silver Spring Drive on the south to Carrigan Drive on the north.

Although some portions of these sidewalks are owned by private entities and other portions are owned by the City, assembly and other expressive activity, as long as it is peaceful, and does not in any way disrupt access, or impede public health, welfare or safety, is lawful on all of these sidewalks, regardless of their ownership. The mall has not agreed to allow protest on the interior streets and sidewalks of Bayshore Town Center where the public gathers. Anyone attempting to protest in these interior spaces may be subject to arrest and/or citation or prosecution.

In addition to Attorney Gramling, Attorneys Holden Brooks and Michael Halfenger of Foley & Lardner in Milwaukee volunteered their time in this case.

This story was also covered on dane101.com and in the Proof and Heresay blog of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel with a lively comments section.

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.

Protest Rights at the Capitol for State of the State

25 Jan

We first posted the “Top 5 Things to Know at Protests” on Feb. 16, 2011. The basics haven’t changed much, despite last year’s Capitol lockdown and the new rules restricting the rights of demonstrators issued by the state Department of Administration in December.

But as we gear up to send volunteer legal observers to the state Capitol to witness the rallies responding to Governor Walker’s second State of the State address, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation would like to reaffirm the rights of protesters to peaceably assemble at our Capitol. We want to remind activists about the top five things to remember when demonstrating:

1. Signs with sticks are not allowed in the Capitol building for safety reasons. New rules prohibit signs that attach to walls or that lean, so keep the banners hand-held. Newer prohibitions against musical instruments, including drums, may also be enforced.

2. Peaceful demonstrations are allowed, so long as they don’t violate other people’s rights. However ignoring police orders is not allowed. The police may not shut down a demonstration entirely, but may put reasonable limits on the time, place and manner of a protest, including closing the Capitol building after the State of the State speech event is over. If police issue orders to protesters to leave an area or to otherwise conform to announced rules, protesters who ignore orders could be subject to citation or arrest.

3. Be a good observer. Document any problems at demonstrations with notes (time, location, details) and especially with cameras. The National Lawyers’ Guild has a guide for trained legal observers that is an excellent resource on how to document protests (PDF). Be friendly to the ACLU observers who will be there in yellow t-shirts or safety vests.

4. An individual under arrest should say nothing to law enforcement without their attorney present. Please see the ACLU of Wisconsin Guide for Demonstrators (PDF) for more details on what is constitutionally protected activity. Criminal behavior is not protected by the First Amendment. For more information on interacting with law enforcement, please see our bust cards for Milwaukee (PDF) and Madison (PDF).

5. Protests in public spaces like sidewalks and in the Capitol within a reasonable time, place and manner are allowed. In general, protesters have the most rights in outdoor public spaces like public sidewalks and the Capitol grounds. As long as the protest is peaceful and does not block traffic, most protest activities are allowed in such spaces.

As protests continue, we remind everyone to take care of themselves, cooperate and continue to exercise their free speech rights without problems or incidents.

If you or your organization face restrictions on your right to demonstrate within these guidelines, contact the ACLU of Wisconsin Madison Area Office at (608) 469-5540 or give your contact information to an ACLU legal observer.

Despite Some Improvements, State Capitol Access Policy Continues to Threaten First Amendment Rights

16 Dec

Today the Wisconsin Department of Administration issued modified its new state facilities access policy following intense criticism from the ACLU of Wisconsin, representatives of demonstrators, elected officials (letter from Rep. Taylor, Wisconsin Legislature) and editorial writers (including the Wisconsin State Journal, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Capitol Times) . You can find the clarifications on the department’s website (PDF).

The ACLU of Wisconsin has conducted an initial review of the policy.  We recognize that the Department has made improvements to the policy, including clarifications regarding a permit requirement for distribution of literature (only those distributing commercial literature need a permit) and the policy’s non-discrimination provision (it now includes sexual orientation which was missing in the first draft).  The new version of the policy also appears to reduce the chances that peaceable demonstrations will be charged for extra law enforcement costs (prompted by counter-demonstrators).

However, the ACLU continues to have serious reservations regarding some provisions of the modified policy, including,

  1. The policy still defines a rally “as a gathering of four or more people for the purpose of promoting any cause.”  (Page 5)  There is no sound reason to require such a small group to obtain a permit.
  2. The policy still holds groups liable for damages incurred “as a result of” the event, whether or not there was any culpability, such as negligence on the group’s part for the damages. (Page 15)
  3. It remains unclear how the Department will determine how many “extra” officers, if any, might be needed for particular event, thus resulting in charges to a group.  Will the DOA make an estimate of the number of likely attendees?  Or determine whether “trouble” is likely?  On what basis would DOA make such determinations?

The ACLU of Wisconsin will seek further clarification from the Department.  In the meantime it requests that the Department delay the enforcement of the new policy: it is still too restrictive.  The ACLU of Wisconsin continues to consider legal action against the Department based on both the language of the policy and its potential enforcement.

The ACLU of Wisconsin and other supporters of free speech at the State Capitol will be holding a media conference there on Monday, December 19thbeginning at 11 a.m. in the Assembly Parlor to announce their reaction to the modified policy.

Yesterday we recognized the 220th anniversary of the ratification of the U.S. Bill of Rights by distributing copies of the Bill of Rights and small U.S. Flags to visitors at Milwaukee State Office Building downtown. We reminded people that this act would have required a permit under the DOA regulations. The amended rules will now allow this activity on the steps of state buildings.

Today’s news was highlighted by the Associated Press in the Wisconsin State Journal and in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.

“While We Still Can.” ACLU of WI Distributes Literature in Milwaukee in Honor of Bill of Rights Day

15 Dec

Today, the ACLU of Wisconsin is celebrating the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Happy Birthday Bill of Rights!

We celebrated in Milwaukee by distributing copies of the Bill of Rights and U.S. Flags on the public area outside the State of Wisconsin Office Building at 819 N. Sixth Street.

The ACLU of Wisconsin distributes US flags and copies of the Bill of Rights for the 220th ratification anniversary.

Because of a new Department of Administration policy, this may be the last time we’ll be able to celebrate in this public area without a permit. The new DOA state facilities access policy, which covers the Milwaukee State Office building as well as the State Capitol in Madison, unduly restricts First Amendment activities.

The ACLU of Wisconsin believes the new policy is too restrictive, gives authorities too much discretion based on content, requires too high a price for free speech, and is too obviously designed to protect public officials from public criticism.

The new policy requires groups as small as four or anyone seeking to distribute literature to get a permit. In addition, groups would be liable for extra police costs based on the content of their speech.  We urge the Department to re-write the new policy so that it passes constitutional muster.

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.

DOA Information Session on Protest Permit/Liability Scheme Leaves Citizens with More Questions

6 Dec

Despite the information session offered today by Capitol Police and the state Department of Administration (DOA), the details of how they will enforce new permit and liability policies related to Capitol protest are still unclear. What is clear is that the new rules as written are too restrictive, give police too much discretion to suppress first amendment activity and are too obviously a reaction to the ongoing, critical protests that have occurred in the Capitol since February.

“I asked the representative of the DOA how decisions would be made to divide liability between a demonstration and a counterdemonstration, but that question was dismissed as a hypothetical situation on which they couldn’t comment,” said Stacy Harbaugh of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Although the discussion often became heated, valid questions asked by participants about how their First Amendment rights would be protected were not answered. We are all left with too many unanswered questions.”

The ACLU of Wisconsin calls upon the state Department of Administration to ensure that an attorney or other staff will be present at future information sessions (scheduled in the Capitol Basement for Thursday at 4:00 p.m. and Saturday at 9:00 a.m.) who are authorized to respond to the legal concerns and questions citizens have about the details of the new rules. While the DOA insists that these rules were written based on their authority under the Administrative codes, questions remain about policies for law enforcement discretion, defining what activity requires a permit, and the legitimacy of requiring permits for expressive activity and holding individuals liable for police costs at demonstrations.

“It is understandable that order must be maintained at the Capitol,” said Harbaugh. “But these rules simply provide too much opportunity to not only suppress the free speech of the demonstrators who have been a constant and critical presence at the Capitol, but also serve to intimidate future protesters through fees and liability. It is in the public interest to allow greater freedom of speech in the Capitol, not to restrict it through this permitting scheme.”

News coverage of the information session was featured in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, and the Oshkosh Northwestern (via AP). Tune into the Joy Cardin show on Wisconsin Public Radio on Wednesday, December 7 at 7:00 a.m. to hear the ACLU of Wisconsin’s Executive Director talk more about the First Amendment issues at stake.

PETA Protest in Milwaukee OK’d by City Attorney, ACLU of WI Responds

6 May

Yesterday Milwaukee City Attorney Grant Langley recognized the right of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to demonstrate outside of a Menomonee Valley slaughterhouse, despite the objections of city alderman Bob Donovan. A permit has been issued to the group for this afternoon’s demonstration.

“The ACLU is pleased that City Attorney Grant Langley did not cave in to pressure from Alderman Bob Donovan’s attempts to squelch the demonstration,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ahmuty. “As the City Attorney correctly observed, the government may impose reasonable limits on the time, place and manner of protests, but may not prohibit them because of their content. In this case, the protesters posed as cuts of meat on platters, with fake blood on their bodies.

More details on the protest’s purpose and the controversy can be found in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article.

“While people may disagree with PETA’s message and their sometimes controversial tactics, the First Amendment clearly protects just this sort of expressive activity,” said Ahmuty. “As the Supreme Court said in United States v. Eichman, even words and expressive conduct that are ‘deeply offensive to many’ are nonetheless protected by the First Amendment.”

The Supreme Court said more than 60 years ago in Terminiello v. Chicago that the “function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects… [T]he alternative would lead to standardization of ideas either by legislatures, courts, or dominant political or community groups.”

“Alderman Donovan has a right to express his disagreement with PETA and their methods, and he certainly doesn’t have to watch their protest if he finds in unpleasant, but he doesn’t have a right to trample on the Constitution,” said Ahmuty.

ACLU of WI Issues Letter to DOA on Fair Access to Capitol

28 Feb

Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin in a letter to Wisconsin Department of Administration Secretary Michael Huebsch insisted that the Secretary ensure fair access to the Capitol. The Department has restricted access to the Capitol by citizens wishing to exercise their rights to free speech and assembly.

ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ahmuty said, “We felt compelled to write the Secretary as his emerging directives impose unwarranted content-based restrictions on those visiting the Capitol Building.”

The ACLU’s letter reads in part, “Prohibiting protesters on either side of the debate from entering the Capitol during normal business hours or during legislative hearings or sessions, while allowing others with ‘business’ in the Capitol to enter, is manifestly content-based and, hence presumptively unconstitutional.”

Ahmuty, said of the letter, “The ACLU of Wisconsin and its members across Wisconsin want a prompt answer to the concerns and requests in our letter to Secretary Huebsch. The rights of our fellow Wisconsin residents can’t be suspended or curtailed for administrative convenience or political posturing.”

During the last two weeks the ACLU of Wisconsin and cooperating attorneys have deployed volunteer legal observers at and around the Capitol on a nearly continuous basis to protect the rights of all demonstrators to peacefully protest to distributing “bust cards” to protesters and by monitoring the authorities for violations of rights.

The full letter and ACLU of Wisconsin statement is available on our website. For current information on the conditions at the Wisconsin state Capitol, please follow the ACLU Madison office on Twitter or visit our Twitter page.

Legal Observers Protect Right to Assemble and Speak

19 Feb

As protests have sprung up around Wisconsin this past week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation has organized especially trained, neutral observers to be witnesses to interactions between police and demonstrators. With more protesters on both sides of the public debate over the budget repair bill expected this weekend, the ACLU will continue to have observers monitor the demonstrations and the law enforcement response. The ACLU has also widely distributed information about protesters’ rights and responsibilities by handing out its popular “bust cards” at protests and by posting on internet and social media sites all week.

The ACLU observers, often wearing yellow “ACLU Legal Observer” t-shirts, have received formal training from ACLU staff and volunteer lawyers about protest rights, working with police and documenting observations of police activity. The observers are trained to remain neutral, rather than to participate in protest activity. The presence of legal observers may help defuse confrontations between protestors and police, deter police misconduct and provide evidence for subsequent legal actions.

Stacy Harbaugh, the ACLU of Wisconsin’s Community Advocate, said, “Our legal observers have been present throughout the protests in Madison and elsewhere in the state this week. We are working with volunteer lawyers to deal with any trouble spots that may arise. Thus far, the protests have been largely peaceful and the various law enforcement agencies have handled the demonstrations well. We hope that trend continues, both here and around the state.” Harbaugh also encouraged people who witness arrests or other police action to help in the monitoring effort by contacting the ACLU or the Hawks-Quindel law firm at (608) 257-0040. Special thanks to all of the volunteers and attorneys who have helped thus far.

For live tweets from the Capitol on the rights of protesters, please follow @ACLUMadison.

Protest rights: Top 5 Things To Know During Demonstrations

16 Feb

On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation sent volunteer legal observers to witness the large-scale protests in Madison and Milwaukee. In Madison the protests have gone largely without incident and with full cooperation between law enforcement and activists despite the estimated 10,000+ demonstrators picketing inside and outside the Capitol each day.

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation would like to affirm the rights of protesters to peaceably assemble. As the demonstrations continue this week, we want to remind activists about the top five things to remember when demonstrating:

1. Signs with sticks are not allowed in the Capitol building for safety reasons. Paper signs are allowed.

2. Peaceful demonstrations are allowed, so long as they don’t violate other people’s rights. However ignoring police orders is not allowed. The police may not shut down a demonstration entirely, but may put reasonable limits on the time, place and manner of a protest. If police issue orders to protesters to leave an area or to otherwise conform to announced rules, protesters who ignore orders could be subject to citation or arrest.

3. Be a good observer. Document any problems at demonstrations with notes (time, location, details) and especially with cameras. The National Lawyers’ Guild has a guide for trained legal observers that is an excellent resource on how to document protests (PDF).

4. An individual under arrest should say nothing to law enforcement without their attorney present. Please see the ACLU of Wisconsin Guide for Demonstrators (PDF) for more details on what Constitutionally protected activity. Criminal behavior is not protected by the First Amendment. For more information on interacting with law enforcement, please see our bust cards for Milwaukee (PDF) and Madison (PDF).

5. Protests in public spaces like sidewalks and in the Capitol within a reasonable time, place and manner are allowed. In general, protesters have the most rights in outdoor public spaces like public sidewalks and the Capitol grounds. As long as the protest is peaceful and does not block traffic, most protest activities are allowed in such spaces. Inside buildings like the Capitol, however, authorities may impose more limits to ensure that government functions are not interrupted.

As protests continue, we remind everyone to take care of themselves, cooperate and continue to exercise their free speech rights without problems or incidents.

UW Milwaukee Police Conduct Report Leaves Unanswered Questions, Says ACLU of WI

27 Aug

On March 4th, students at the UW-Milwaukee campus gathered to rally over the increase of tuition rates. When they took their message to the University’s administration building, police and protesters had a confrontation and students were arrested and ticketed.

We blogged about the incident this spring and we said that an investigation was needed to review the use of force by campus police against protesters. However, the partial release of a report on police conduct by law enforcement experts and the Vice Chancellor leaves questions unanswered.

“The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin is concerned that the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee may be missing an opportunity to improve the UWM Police Department’s response to free speech activities, including demonstrations, on campus,” said Executive Director Chris Ahmuty. “The two-page executive summary of an independent review panel’s report has indicated several deficiencies in terms of planning, training, equipment and tactics. Vice Chancellor Christy L. Brown’s memorandum responding to the report focuses on the prevention of “civil unrest” and absolves, and even praises, the police for their conduct, while endorsing the recommendations in the review panel.”

Ahmuty went on to explain that Vice Chancellor Brown’s response to the review panel’s report is inconsistent with the report’s executive summary. What is even more troubling is that both documents fail to suggest ways to facilitate peaceful protest. The apparent mindset of the panel and Vice Chancellor is all about control and the exercise of police authority. The ACLU had hoped that this report would recognize that the vast majority of demonstrators were peacefully exercising their rights to free speech. Because of the deficiencies indicated in the report and poor decisions by UWMPD officers and their superiors during the demonstration the UWMPD did not handle the situation as well as it might have.

“We recognize that officers have a great deal of responsibility and work in often difficult circumstances,” said Ahmuty. “Difficult circumstances do not diminish their responsibility to use constitutional methods. Therefore, the ACLU of Wisconsin is seeking additional information on some of the review panel’s recommendations. For instance, we are disappointed that there is a recommendation that officers receive formal training in crowd control tactics and operations, without explicitly including training on the rights of demonstrators in groups.”

Hopefully this report will not be shelved as an end of dialogue on campus over how police respond to demonstrations. Constitutionally protected activity needs a trained and measured law enforcement response that protects rather than chills free speech.

This issue has had some coverage in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.