The new Capitol Police chief is already following through on his threat to crack down on Capitol protesters.
Chalk, film and sing
“I’ve been worried for some time that there will be a real crackdown here.”
Progressive magazine editor Matt Rothschild said that on Fighting Bob Radio August 23, a few days before new Wisconsin Capitol Police Force Chief David Erwin announced publicly that he would indeed clamp down on protesters at the Capitol building in Madison.
In fact, for Steve Books, the crackdown began somewhat earlier: at 3:32 p.m. Saturday, August 11. Books, a member of Clarence Kailin Chapter 25 Veterans for Peace, was seen writing with chalk on the sidewalk along the Main Street side of the capitol.
Books, an Army National Guard veteran and peace and justice activist, said he was chalking the words “This is far, far, far, far from over” on the sidewalk during an afternoon after the farmer’s market ended. From his ground level perspective, “I see a pair of shoes,” Books reported.
Inside the shoes were the feet of Chief Erwin, an 11-year veteran of the Marine Corps, and 16-year state patrolman recently named to replace Chief Charles Tubbs, who took over in July as Dane County emergency management director. Tubbs was widely respected for his work during 2011 protests when hundreds of thousands of people peacefully protested at the Capitol in opposition to Governor Scott Walker’s and Republican legislator’s moves against collective bargaining, health care, women, the environment, and Wisconsin’s tradition of progressive legislation in general.
Books said Erwin told him, “We have to hire people to come out and wash it (the chalk) off.” Books told the chief that the chalk would be washed away by rain and continued writing on the sidewalk. Erwin then pressed into action an off-duty officer who happened to be nearby.
Books was arrested, handcuffed, marched into the basement of the Capitol, and originally cited for engaging “in conduct otherwise prohibited…without the express written approval of the department,” under a catch-all 2.14 (2) (zd) chapter of the Wisconsin Administrative Code. He faces a fine of $205.
A phone call to Erwin a few days later asking for comments on the “Steve Books case” ended when the chief said: “You’ll have to call the secretary’s office on that.” A call to the Department of Administration secretary Mike Huebsch’s office was fielded by deputy secretary Chris Schoenherr and referred to Stephanie Marquis of the office staff. Marquis returned the call later, left a message, and hasn’t been successfully contacted since.
Meanwhile, chalker Books made his first appearance August 24 before a court commissioner. He requested a jury trial, and a pre-trial conference was set for 1:30 p.m. Friday, September 21, in Room L1000 at the Dane County Courthouse. Books said the charge against him was changed to a code (Adm. 2.07 (2)) regarding “displays and decorations” and stating partially: “No displays, signs, banners, placards, decorations or graphic or artistic material may be erected, attached, mounted or displayed within or on the building or the grounds of any state office building or facility without the express written authority of the department.”
Erwin’s crackdown immediately resulted in doubling the size of the Solidarity Singers group which musically protests in the Capitol four days a week. The American Civil Liberties Union has been apprised of Books’ arrest, and Erwin was chastised by State Senator Mark Miller for failing to tell legislative leaders and the chief justice of the Supreme Court about his crackdown.
On Fighting Bob Radio, Progressive editor Rothschild said, “Walker…and the Department of Administration…and the new police chief, who is a real hardcore reactionary…they’re all going to say: ‘Look, we’ve got the power and we don’t need these scruffy protesters in here disrupting our daily meetings with the lobbyists. Let’s just get them out of the way, and let’s crack down on them.’ And if that happens, what we need to do is come back to the Capitol by the thousands. We need to say if they are going to arrest one person for chalking or one person for filming in the gallery or for singing in the rotunda, that we by the thousands need to go in and chalk and film and sing. And if they want to arrest thousands of us, they should fill the jails of Dane County.”
Recent posts on DailyKos.com link Chief Erwin’s chalking obsession in Madison with police crackdowns on chalkers in Texas, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
September 2, 2012
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David Giffey is a freelance journalist and FightingBob.com contributing editor who lives in Arena. He is the author of "Long Shadows: Veterans’ Paths to Peace" (Atwood Publishing), "Struggle for Justice: The Migrant Farm Worker Labor Movement in Wisconsin," and "The People’s Stories of South Madison."