You know something is seriously wrong with state government when headlines read, "No Arrests at Capitol."
Such a non-event is newsworthy because since July 24, 2013, the Capitol Police have made more than 200 arrests for gathering and singing without a permit in the rotunda. Despite the exact same activities and well over 100 people singing there today, no arrests were made.
It could be that the Capitol Police are getting tired of handcuffing people and hauling them downstairs -- or, in the case of people from out of state, over to the Dane County Jail -- to write them the equivalent of a speeding ticket.
Or it could be that they took the opportunity of somebody else's permit for use of a small part of the space as a way to avoid having to make the shameful arrests.
Last week, after having been notified that he was subject to arrest for merely observing the Solidarity Sing Along, David Dexheimer applied for and was granted a permit to observe from the vantage point of a 10' x 10' area on the first floor.
In his application, Dexheimer made clear that there would be up to three people who would like to "be free to speak amongst ourselves and to acknowledge by greeting, waving, applauding, speaking or any other non-disruptive manner, other visitors to the Capitol rotunda."
David Dexheimer and his family. Photo by Rebecca Kemble.
The application continues, "The group would like to be free to move to and from the permitted area during the course of the time period covered by the permit. Some of our group may carry hand-held paper signs measuring no more than 11" x 17". The signs intend to express dissatisfaction with the application of Wisconsin administrative code by the Department of Administration and the Capitol Police Department as it applies to the required permitting of events which are otherwise constitutionally protected acts of free speech."
Dexheimer was explicit in his intentions for use of only a small area, and his desire for others to be able to utilize the rest of the rotunda as they would. "This application does not require, nor is it requesting exclusive use of the Capitol Rotunda and should not be construed to either include nor impinge on the ability of others to visit and gather in areas not requested by this permit."
But despite that statement, the Capitol Police put out a new message in the rotunda stating that people not respecting the permit holder would be subject to arrest.
When Dexheimer saw the sign he was concerned about the provisions of his permit and went downstairs to the station to clarify some points.
Here is a short video of his interaction with Capitol Police Executive Assistant to the Chief, Sue Barica:
This conversation left Dexheimer feeling like the Capitol Police were abdicating their power to arrest people to him, the permit holder, even though his permit had nothing to do with activities on the ground floor or other areas of the rotunda.
Even though Ms. Barica was very clear in stating that any singing or other activities taking place in the rotunda had nothing to do with Dexheimer's permit and he would not be held legally liable should anything happen outside of his permitted area, the Capitol Police seemed to be treating today's event as if it were, in fact, covered by the permit.
That the Sing Along was not declared unlawful today as it has been for many days prior raises questions about how the Capitol Police are enforcing or not enforcing administrative rules. Like their practice of warning observers they were subject to arrest, followed by a statement saying that observers won't be arrested, this kind of selective enforcement seems designed more to harass and intimidate citizens rather than to provide for public safety in the traditional public forum that is the Wisconsin State Capitol rotunda.
Photo by Rebecca Kemble.
Rebecca Kemble reports for The Progressive magazine and website. She also participates when she can in the Solidarity Sing Along.