On September 14, capitol police, who claimed there was a ban in effect on filming, arrested a number of people at a Wisconsin state assembly meeting. An edited YouTube video posted shows the police systematically rounding up individuals who were recording the meeting with any device.
The officers apparently acted on a “notice posted outside the assembly” that said “for reasons of safety and decorum” movie/video/TV cameras, photography, cell phones or pagers, and laptops, etc, are banned. This “order,” as the first person hauled out of the assembly made clear to police, is in violation of Wisconsin State Statute 19.90, which reads:
Whenever a governmental body holds a meeting in open session, the body shall make a reasonable effort to accommodate any person desiring to record, film or photograph the meeting. This section does not permit recording, filming of photographing such a meeting in a manner that interferes with the conduct of the meeting or the rights of the participants.
Those arrested were not disrupting the assembly meeting until they refused to be arrested for doing something they are allowed to do under the state statute.
Executive Director of Defending Wisconsin Pac, Jeremy Ryan, reports the Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Kramer claimed they were being arrested for violating Assembly Rule 26, which supposedly prohibits cameras from being in the chamber unless they are being used by “credentialed press”:
Assembly Rule 26. Conduct in the chamber.
(1) The presiding officer shall preserve order, decorum, and quiet on and about the assembly floor during sessions.
(2) While the presiding officer is addressing the assembly or submitting a question, a member may not cross or leave the floor. While a member is speaking, a member may not walk between the speaking member and the presiding officer.
(3) A person may not read any printed newspaper on the assembly floor or in the visitor galleries while the assembly is in session.
(4) A person may not consume food on the assembly floor or in the visitor galleries.
(5) A person may not smoke on the assembly floor or in the visitor galleries.
(a) Except as provided in par. (b), a person may not use a 2-way mobile radio service, such as a personal communications service, or a 2-way mobile radio device, such as a cellular telephone, in the assembly chamber, other than in the offices of the speaker, majority leader, and minority leader, and in hallways.
(b) Paragraph (a) does not apply to:
1. A member of the capitol police or a law enforcement officer.
2. The assembly sergeant at arms or a person acting at his or her direction.
3. A person authorized by motion of the speaker adopted by majority vote of the members present and voting.
4. The assembly chief clerk or a person acting at his or her direction.
5. A member in the parlor or lobbies.
(7) A person, other than a person specified in rule 25 (3), may not possess or use in the assembly chamber a microphone designed to pick up conversation more than 10 feet away from the microphone.
Ryan adds, “Democrats asked the rule be suspended as it is clearly unconstitutional. The motion was tabled, the blatant disregard for rights continued.”
Ryan was recording the assembly meeting as a “legitimate member of the press.” In a blog post he describes how he was arrested and why he is now wearing a neck brace (in addition to a knee brace he was wearing before the arrest):
[Capitol police came] over to me, trying to capture the session so I can later report on it with video as a legitimate member of the press (you wouldn’t be reading this if I wasn’t). I inform them that the constitution trumps any Assembly rules and that I have every right to film. At this point a State Trooper (who will be named in the police report, didn’t get his name today) grabbed my arm and flung it back, prying my camera out of my hand making it illegally seized property therefore a Fourth Amendment rights violation as well, and threw it to the floor. With my arm still back and fully extended the officer grabs at my neck with full force causing excruciating pain and a very audible pop.
Ryan was charged with “disorderly conduct.” He also picked up some medical or prescription bills as a result of what looks like an illegal arrest.
Ryan is someone who gave up his business to take on Governor Scott Walker’s onslaught on poor, working class and middle class Americans. He wrote about and produced video of the protests when they first began and was reporting when the media had moved on from covering Walker’s assault on unions and social welfare.
Back in March, the Capital Times reported “in accordance with Assembly Rule 26,” mobile phones, laptop computers, video cameras and still cameras were now banned. This was not to affect press with credentials. Nonetheless, in June, two reporters were arrested and cited for “disorderly conduct” after they entered the Capitol rotunda to film a parade that was coming into the Capitol.
Stevens wrote an open letter to Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs on July 11. In the letter, he presented details on previous arrests and citations for “holding signs in the galleries.” All six of his citations were dismissed. He nicely presents why the capitol police should not be permitted to operate as they have been:
… [You] are wasting police resources, and therefore taxpayer money on something that is not even illegal and will not be prosecuted. You are also wasting taxpayer money on the district attorney that has to read the report, the judge that has to hear the status conference, and the district attorney that has to meet with me for pretrial just to inform me they are being dismissed. My second concern is that you are violating both my first and fourth amendment rights by allowing me to be removed and that seems a bit harassing in more ways than one. The first is that no one really likes to be removed, although this is something I can deal with to stand up for justice. But the second, and perhaps most important, is that every time you have me removed, it deprives me of my ability to observe my government and sit in that meeting. [emphasis added]
Depriving citizens of their ability to observe government is the de facto result. It may even be the intention.
Like the decision by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to charge his constituents admission for his town hall meetings, the enforcement of this ban, whether legal or not, is designed to suppress the backlash against the state, as leaders further decimate the social safety net and enact programs that negatively affect lower and working class Wisconsinites. The choice to expand corporate welfare instead of social welfare creates the necessity for coercive action by the state, such as arresting individuals who film assembly meetings.
When deceit and misdirection fail, when the state cannot beat back the hundreds of thousands of people who oppose the direction of the Wisconsin state government, suppressive measures are called for to intimidate citizens.
Video of protesters being arrested: