On Wednesday morning, the Madison Professional Police Officers Association and the Dane County Deputy Sheriff’s Association issued
a statement of disagreement with the recent shift in Capitol policy. The Isthmus
reports the association took issue with the way “officers are being forced
into emotionally charged confrontations that are neither necessary nor
advisable,” and asserted their belief that “the recent enforcement action at
the Capitol clearly violates […] rights in a way that should be unacceptable
in a free society.”

A tradition of active democracy has
been an integral part of the vibrant political culture that this city enjoys. Gov. Scott Walker and Capitol Police Chief Dave Erwin’s attempt to suppress demonstration with handcuffs, red tape
and endless bureaucracy has put this culture in jeopardy and deserves to be
scrutinized. Yes, they are enforcing existing laws, but their intent to put an
end to any sort of protest in the Capitol and strictly regulate public
demonstration represent a break from Madison’s culture of political expression.

Everybody saw this coming. When Walker appointed Erwin this summer, it was
only logical to expect a drastic change in the way demonstrations at the Capitol
were handled. Erwin himself was vocal about his plans, which were reported on in an
article by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, to “return the Capitol to some
normalcy” by issuing tickets to protesters who attempt to intimidate legislators
and enforcing permits. The same article explains he even suggested to
legislators that if demonstrators were following and harassing them, they “could
try to hit them.”

We do not condone the sort of aggressive
protesting that involves screaming and swearing at lawmakers or pouring beer on
their heads, and if it were the case that Erwin was specifically targeting this
behavior, we would have no qualms. However, the arrests and citations have
extended beyond belligerent protesters and have fallen on harmless sign-bearers in
the Capitol and singers on the sidewalk.

Erwin
has certainly followed through on his promise to arrest protesters without
permits. He has even sent deputies to protesters’ homes to issue citations,
according to the Progressive. Last week, the Isthmus reported that his office
demanded that a folk band by the name of Moldy Jam, which has played at a
farmers market in the parking lot of the Department of Transportation for more
than five years, apply for a permit.

This is outrageous. First of all,
band member Terry O’Laughlin explains that, “for the children, we put out boxes
of shakers, rattles and other percussion instruments. This activity is quite
popular.” Stepping on the air hose of a band that is trying to entertain children
is morally indefensible.

The fact that the recent crackdown
on Capitol protesters was predictable doesn’t make it acceptable. After the
waves of public outrage that hit Capitol Square last year, it is not surprising a Walker-appointed Capitol police chief would seek to limit
demonstrations, especially those putting lawmakers in jeopardy. Erwin was
clear about his intentions to protect legislators. However, we feel recent
arrests and citations have made it clear Erwin’s aggressive policy goes
beyond what would be warranted by safety concerns.

In sum, his crusade against
demonstrators amounts to a belated effort to retaliate against a protest movement
that overran the Capitol building last year. It is an attack on a culture of
free political expression that makes no distinction between the sort of intimidation
and harassment that puts lawmakers in danger and other peaceful forms of civil
discourse.

Just as state legislators deserve a
safe workplace environment, citizens deserve a centrally located public venue
in which to participate in direct democracy. We believe that the Capitol can
serve both of these purposes.