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PHOTO: Leslie Amsterdam
July 26, 2013: On a partially downcast and rainy day, two men of God knelt down onto the marble floor of the Wisconsin State Capitol building rotunda to cry and pray. These men, draped in their respective religious garb; one donning the robes of a Franciscan friar and the other a Lutheran minister’s collar, led a recitation of “The Lord’s Prayer” in song.
Reverend Dary and Friar Phil Gerboc were compelled to the Capitol that day because of the appalling actions taken by Governor Scott Walker and Capitol Police against protesters who sang songs in the rotunda criticizing the controversial governor days before. These men were there to bring peace. Friar Phil plead with police to arrest him instead of singing protesters. With some 100 singers and an estimated 100 onlookers, Friar Gerboc’s respectful request would be denied, more arrests would be made and his fellow clergyman would be in the back of an ambulance by the time the singing ended.
Within minutes of leading prayer and song, the visibly shaken Lutheran Rev. Dary gave a statement regarding his own interaction with the Wisconsin State Capitol Police the day before. Rev. Dary was quickly arrested a short time after giving that statement and suffered a cardiac event while in custody. Rev. Dary’s condition required the emergency administration of nitroglycerin and transportation via ambulance to a nearby hospital. By Friday evening he was listed in fair condition.
Here is the statement Rev. Dary made immediately prior to his arrest:
Here is a witness account of Rev. Dary’s treatment under Capitol Police detention including the observation that Capitol Police continued to restrain Rev. Dary even after calling an ambulance.
Friar Phil Gerboc’s plea to Capitol Police to arrest him instead of singing protesters:
How did the Wisconsin State Capitol rotunda become staging ground to a fight over First Amendment rights, and is it a sign of things to come?
Since March 2011, citizens from every walk of Wisconsin life could stop in at the Capitol rotunda during the lunch hour any business day to take part in or observe what has been termed “The Solidarity Sing Along.”
The sing-a-long symbolizes a “Wisconsin idea” so important that it was written into the Wisconsin state constitution and the capitol building designed for its very purpose: the right to freely assemble in order to petition the government for a redress of grievances . Article 1 Section 4 of the WI State Constitution states:
“The right of the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, and to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall never be abridged.”
In other words, the right to publicly protest the actions of your government.
Wisconsin has always been a US Constitution and First Amendment stronghold. Wisconsinites protect their freedom of speech rights almost as fervently as they protect their gun rights.
It could be said that gun rights have been placed above the right to free speech since Scott Walker has taken over the Governor’s Office because concealed guns are now allowed within the rotunda but singing is not.
“It could be said that gun rights have been placed above the right to free speech since Scott Walker has taken over the Governor’s Office because concealed guns are now allowed within the rotunda but singing is not.”
Since its inception, the Walker Administration has tried to silence the Solidarity Sing Along event first by requiring a permit for ANY gathering, group or meeting of four or more people and limiting the size of signs and banners allowed in the building.
On July 9, U.S. District Judge Conley, in response to a suit brought by the ACLU of Wisconsin challenging the permit requirement’s constitutionality, struck down many of the new policies, noting “[The Capitol’s] design was intended to embody… the pursuit of fair and open government informed by an educated, politically involved citizenry and the ‘Wisconsin idea.'”
Judge Conley acknowledged the original purpose and design of the building was as a public forum wherein a citizen could stand on any designated spot in the rotunda to be heard throughout the building. The Wisconsin Founders believed the building’s purpose and function was that of a “People’s House” and that was how it should be used.
Conley called parts of the new rules unconstitutional and issued a temporary order allowing for the citation of groups of 20 or more found without a permit until a trial over the matter takes place in January 2014.
Participants of the Solidarity Sing Along have always contended that the Wisconsin Constitution guarantees the right to assemble without need for a permit. They also contend that their daily event is not that of a single cohesive group, but instead is freely attended by anyone who chooses to be there. It is not affiliated with any organization and therefore does not meet the criteria set forth in the permit requirements. Of the more than 200 citations issued so far for gathering without a permit, all but a few have been dismissed by the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
Capitol Police began a new campaign to oust the Sing Along on Wednesday, July 23 when they arrested 22 participants on the grounds of not having a permit to be gathered in the Capitol rotunda. The arrests that day included singing octogenarians, including that of an 80- and 85-year-old couple as well as members of the press who happened to be walking by, which brought renewed attention to the event and sparked a new round of even louder song Thursday.
Watch this 80 year-old woman sing throughout her arrest:
If Wednesday’s unconstitutional and brazen behavior by Capitol Police was hard to witness, it was mild in comparison to the aggressive display of force used the next day against singing veterans and peaceful protesters. Twenty-six citations were issued to singers and protesters and three were charged with resisting arrest and/or obstruction.
One citizen arrested Thursday was a member of “Veterans for Peace” who was silently standing by before Capitol Police surrounded him and restrained him. During his arrest the police knocked the flag from his hands, subsequently trampling it as they led him away in plastic cuffs. He was additionally charged with resisting arrest and jailed following his detention at the Capitol.
Also arrested that day for singing without a permit was a woman who’d undergone recent hip surgery and was denied use of her crutches or physical support by police as she was nearly dragged away from the rotunda into detention. Like so many others arrested, she bore bruises and scrapes left by the plastic cuffs– as though the restraint of her hands could weaken her voice or strain her words.
Watch her arrest here:
Parents with children present, observers and protesters were targeted for arrest Thursday with neither rhyme nor reason. Members of the press who were arrested in the rotunda the prior day left the Sing Along Thursday without any citations or answers regarding their unconstitutional detention the prior day.
Tensions that had mounted over Wednesday’s and Thursday’s arrests were further strained at the Capitol Friday as time for the Solidarity Sing Along, usually held outdoors on Fridays when weather permits, approached.
Capitol Police placed a sandwich board sign in the rotunda declaring that a wedding had been scheduled to take place there that day at noon. (A wedding party was never seen nor located on grounds however a spokesperson states that a wedding party reserved the first or second floors for 11:30am that day in the case of inclement weather outside.)
As time for the Solidarity Sing Along drew near, dozens of protesters gathered outside while dozens more filled the rotunda where two men knelt on the floor and began to pray.
No one knew how far the Capitol Police would go on that third day of tension and escalation by Capitol Police. No one could have known exactly how far the Walker Administration would go or how badly they’d trample the First Amendment rights of Wisconsin’s own citizens.
Not only were peaceably assembled singers arrested that day, but observers and tourists were threatened with detention as well if they didn’t leave the rotunda. Even lawmakers and elected officials were threatened when Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s office sent a note to legislative offices warning staff not to congregate along the balcony during the protests, “If you are in the vicinity of the illegal demonstrations that have been taking place over the noon hour in the rotunda, you will be considered part of the protests and are subject to being ticketed.”
According to an announcement on the Solidarity Sing Along’s Facebook page, a conservative blogger has received a permit to hold a Tea Party sing along event in the Capitol rotunda Monday, July 29. The Solidarity Sing Along will be holding their own event outside of the Capitol at noon as they have always done when the rotunda is reserved by permit.
With Walker’s ongoing assault on the rights of Wisconsin women, workers, elderly, children, elected officials and now veteran soldiers and clergy, it makes one wonder if any Wisconsin citizen with the exception of mining companies, with their unlicensed, armed military-style security, is safe from Scott Walker.
And it makes one wonder if, considering the fact that Walker is a Republican darling and eyeing a run at Presidency in 2016, anyone in AMERICA is safe from Walker?
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