I have no doubt that Capitol Police Chief David Erwin is the worst kind of police officer. In the last several weeks, he has over-exercised his power and needlessly picked on Madisonians who do not deserve his attention.
But applying a general judgement to the constitutionality or necessity of Erwin’s tyrannical behavior is not appropriate considering the equally ridiculous behavior of protesters whose increasing irresponsibility and radicalism has turned a building that was, one year ago, “our house” into “nobody’s house.”
The Capitol Police have a responsibility to hold, at the very least, a tolerable level of decorum and security in the state’s most important building. Maintaining this ideal represents the desire of a majority of Wisconsinites — not just those who live in Madison — who also can claim ownership of the building. They visit Madison from all corners of the state and hold a variety of political beliefs. They — “the people” — are the most important constituency the police protect.
The Capitol’s fringe group of protesters are included in this group, but they have become known for harassing fellow Wisconsinites, including Capitol employees, members of the press corps and elected officials. They act as if the chant, “whose house? Our house!” is a claim of the far left’s exclusive ownership of the Capitol, giving them the opportunity to engage in activity that would not pass even under the jurisdiction of the friendly Madison Police. They run the risk of becoming the same public safety threat their allies at the east side’s Occupy camp became.
As First Amendment expert and Badger Herald adviser Donald Downs wrote earlier this week in an Isthmus piece, the requirement of permits is not unconstitutional, nor is it uncommon.
We should consider ourselves lucky to live in such a safe city where police are lenient and generally kind. I grew up in a small bedroom community between Rockford, Ill., and Beloit where local police were more than willing to use their badges to take advantage of vulnerable populations. Moving to Madison and dealing with a new policing dynamic was a breath of fresh air, and it has been disappointing to encounter a police force that reminds me of the overbearing suburban cops I saw in Illinois.
But we must never forget the protesters who, after the fire of last winter’s uprising died, made a mockery of liberals and the First Amendment and abused their privileges. The Capitol is no longer considered a safe space because of their presence. And they are the reason for Erwin’s crackdown. He may be a Walkerite with questionable strategies, but Erwin’s motives are not unreasonable.
So I have a recommendation for Capitol Police: Bring back the metal detectors. It avoids the threat of an insecure Capitol, but does not abridge the rights of those who have exercised them in such a reprehensible manner.