The current ragtag group of protesters at the Capitol now has the good fortune of dealing with new Capitol Police Chief David Erwin, as reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He brings with him a promise to more strictly enforce rules regarding demonstrating. While the protesters may be a slight disruption on the pristine lawns of the Capitol, Erwin’s harsh approach is not the solution.
Whether or not you agree with them, the protesters at the Capitol early last year had legitimate, justifiable grounds in exercising their right to assemble. But with time and the passing of the gubernatorial recall election, the pertinence of protesting as a means to immediately affect politics has waned while idiocy has increased. This has happened in a manner similar to Occupy Wall Street turning from a valid assembly to a motley group of the homeless and anarchists.
Despite this reality, a rotation of the same disruptive figures has remained. While these few hangers-on do have a right to assemble, they give the Capitol an image of insecurity because the police have to continually tend to them. They fail to appreciate that continuing to protest a moot point is an insult to the legitimacy and significance of the constitutionally established proceedings in our Capitol. Just because a citizen may not agree with what bills are passed, that does not delegitimize the political system in our state. Put bluntly, the First Amendment does not exist so you can be a prick.
Yes, the ragtag protesters are mildly irritating. And yes, the anti-Walker effort would seem more respectable without them. But this does not warrant a hardline approach like that of Chief Erwin.
Chief Erwin will hand cases involving civil tickets to the Department of Justice, run by Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, instead of to Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne. Of the previous cases sent to him by the Capitol Police, Ozanne has dismissed at least 94 of the 139 cases. It is likely that cases involving protesters will have a lesser chance of being dismissed under Van Hollen.
Madison has an image problem of being seen as a city that takes protesting too far. But by cracking down, Chief Erwin will only add fuel to the fire by giving the lingering protesters a reason to return louder than before; it could also result in a dangerous situation arising where there had not been one. Furthermore, everyday visitors to the Capitol should not have to live in fear of the police.
Chief Erwin’s hard-line, harsh approach to protesting at the Capitol is not the right solution to a minimally irksome problem.