Thursday, July 25, 2013

In Sing Along dispute, question the motives of those trying to quell dissent

State statutes demonstrate that lunchtime protesters are acting within the bounds of the law

Over the past two days, Capitol Police have cited dozens of fines against Solidarity Sing Along demonstrators.

Day one saw a blatant crack-down on the singers. Octogenarians were placed in handcuffs. Peaceful demonstrators were ticketed. And the result?

An increase in support for the singers came out in droves. The second day again saw citations, but remarkably more people joining the Sing Along in support of their right to peaceably assemble, even knowing that they could get ticketed themselves.

"Like" the Solidarity Sing Along on Facebook
The defense of the right to assemble is the most important aspect in this whole thing. Whether you support their message or not, the singers (and everyone else for that matter) have a right to address their lawmakers directly, in a public forum that is architecturally designed to bring people together.

There are some who would criticize the singers for their insistence to remain in the Capitol building. They knew the rules, after all, and should understand that those rules would be enforced.

Some say the singers are an annoyance. Others deplore their very presence, based on political stances taken by group members.

Whatever their rationale, the critics have got it all wrong. It’s not the singers who have to justify being in the rotunda, but rather the governor and his administration who have to justify restricting the people’s presence.

Wisconsin statutes do provide an outline of when an assembly of people can be lawfully dispersed. Chapter 947.06 of the statutes declares that an “unlawful assembly” can be ordered to be broken apart by “sheriffs, their undersheriffs and deputies, constables, marshals and police officers.”

But it goes on to specify what constitutes an “unlawful assembly” in very specific terms:
An “unlawful assembly” is an assembly which consists of 3 or more persons and which causes such a disturbance of public order that it is reasonable to believe that the assembly will cause injury to persons or damage to property unless it is immediately dispersed.


An “unlawful assembly” includes an assembly of persons who assemble for the purpose of blocking or obstructing the lawful use by any other person, or persons of any private or public thoroughfares, property or of any positions of access or exit to or from any private or public building, or dwelling place, or any portion thereof and which assembly does in fact so block or obstruct the lawful use by any other person, or persons of any such private or public thoroughfares, property or any position of access or exit to or from any private or public building, or dwelling place, or any portion thereof.
Emphases added.

The Solidarity Sing Along doesn’t fit the criteria of an “unlawful assembly” under the terms of Wisconsin statutes. No one can reasonably believe that the group would cause injury to others or to property. Furthermore, they do not obstruct any business, or prevent visitors from entering or leaving the rotunda.

The real issue here is the motives of those trying to suppress these singers. What is the aim at stifling their voices? Why are the Capitol Police being ordered by the Department of Administration to fine and handcuff these peaceful demonstrators?

Most of all, why is it important for Gov. Scott Walker and his administration to stop the demonstrations? Is it for practical purposes, or is it political?

The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind.

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