Almost two dozen protesters were arrested and issued $200.05 tickets Wednesday as Capitol Police cracked down on the long-running Solidarity Singalong.
Dozens of police officers working in small teams approached participants in the more than 2-year-old demonstration and asked them to leave or face arrest because the group didn’t have a permit.
When the singers refused, they were handcuffed and led to the basement of the Capitol where they were frisked, asked to provide identity and written a ticket.
“It’s a public forum where people have the right to gather and petition their government,” said Bill Dunn, 63, of Middleton, who was one of those arrested.
Dunn previously received two citations for participating in the demonstration, some of the dozens that were issued since protests against Gov. Scott Walker began in spring 2011, but they were both dismissed. He said he plans to plead not guilty to the latest citation.
A total of 25 no-permit citations were issued to 22 people, including three who received two citations, Department of Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said. In addition, one person received a disorderly conduct citation for spitting on a singer.
Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge William Conley issued a temporary ruling that groups of 20 or fewer did not need a permit to gather in the Capitol, but he left in place the state’s ability to regulate larger groups. The ruling acknowledged the state’s interest in regulating activities in state buildings.
“Judge Conley ruled several weeks ago that the state’s permit process is constitutional,” Marquis said. “The Capitol Police are upholding the law to ensure the building can be shared by all citizens who come to the Capitol.”
Since 1979, the state has required groups gathering at the Capitol to get a permit, Marquis said. Capitol Police began issuing citations to the singers last year after Chief David Erwin took office. Earlier this year, DOA put in place emergency rules saying groups of four or more must have a permit.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin sued on behalf of a UW-Madison professor who participated in the singalong but was never cited, prompting Conley’s temporary ruling. The case is scheduled for trial in January.
Wednesday’s arrests continued throughout the noon hour as the group, which in recent weeks has regularly numbered more than 60, continued to sing in defiance of the DOA permitting policy. The number of participants Wednesday was around 50, but it was difficult to tell as many tourists and media hovered around the event.
Individuals who began to sing or shout at police were approached by police, asked to leave and arrested if they refused. At one point, a group of senior citizens linked hands and sang “we shall not be moved” before each was arrested.
Joan Kemble, 80, said she and her 85-year-old husband were taken to the cafeteria in the basement and “put through all the rigamarole.” When she refused to provide identification, she was told she would be taken to jail and fingerprinted. After about 15 minutes, she was back in the rotunda talking with reporters and Democratic legislators.
“My daughter used to say it was fascist and I thought she has being extreme,” said Kemble, the mother of Rebecca Kemble, a contributor to Progressive Magazine and a frequent Walker critic. “That’s before I got here and saw the things they are doing.”
Last week, Capitol Police began reading a statement to the group warning them they were part of an unlawful event, but the singers drowned them out by singing louder. Police used a bullhorn, and later an amplifier, to deliver the message.
On Wednesday, police posted a sign in the rotunda with the same message as the event began around noon, then started making arrests when the group refused to disperse. Capitol Police were assisted by officers from the Department of Natural Resources and the State Patrol, Marquis said.