In an audacious display of authority, Capitol Police Thursday arrested a Madison City Council member, three members of the Raging Grannies singing team, Progressive magazine editor Matt Rothschild and a 14-year-old girl.
After a reprieve Wednesday, when police didn’t arrest anyone because Elliot Doren of St. Paul, Minn., obtained a permit for the daily Solidarity Sing Along at the state Capitol, police on Thursday hauled 22 people into the Capitol basement to issue citations for assembling without a permit, as well as one disorderly conduct charge. A complete list of those arrested was not available Thursday afternoon.
Doren didn’t respond to a Facebook message asking why he obtained the permit.
Most of today’s arrests were of older, gray-haired singers who have no connection with the alleged disruptions that Capitol Police Chief David Erwin cited as the impetus of his crackdown on protesters last year. The latest incarnation of that crackdown has seen the issuance of about 250 tickets for assembling without a permit since July 24, when Erwin apparently interpreted a federal court ruling as free rein to make arrests when groups of 20 or more assemble without a permit. Thursday's Solidarity Sing Along drew about 100 singers to the Capitol rotunda, with nearly as many observing from over the railing on the second floor.
Bonnie Block, 71, was one of three Raging Grannies who were hauled off as protesters booed the police and chanted “shame, shame.” The others were Mary Sanderson and Kathy Miner.
Block says she suspects she was targeted by police because of a letter she wrote criticizing the crackdown that was published Thursday by the Wisconsin State Journal.
“I think the timing on that is really interesting,” she says.
Rothschild was arrested as he photographed their arrest. Block says he identified himself as the press before he was handcuffed and escorted downstairs.
“That says to me hey, this is really about stifling dissent, not about the permits,” Block says.
Madison City Council member Mark Clear was among the first arrested Thursday. He was attending with three other council members, Scott Resnick, Lisa Subeck and Marsha Rummel, who weren’t arrested.
The 14-year-old girl arrested, who identified herself only as Lidia, says she was trying to get arrested by following the police as they arrested others.
“It’s my right,” she says. “I have a right to peacefully protest my government.”
No one contacted who was arrested on Thursday complained about the tightness of the handcuffs, which some protesters in recent days have called excessive, although red creases were visible on their wrists. (A couple of men display their wounds at the end of this video.)
Asked for an explanation of the policy of handcuffing peaceful protesters, Department of Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis says in an email: "As with all police departments, an individual is told that he/she is being placed under arrest and placed in handcuffs when they are being detained. Standard protocol for police officers."
But Mike Scott, director of the UW-based Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, says the tactic is unusual.
"In my experience it is not standard procedure to handcuff an individual who the officer knows will be cited and released," Scott says in an email. "The only legitimate reasons I can think of to do so are either to assure the officer's safety while the officer checks the person's status for outstanding warrants, or if the officer has reason to believe that the person will be combative while being detained."
He says that if they were being combative, normal procedure would be to take them to jail, not to release them.
"From the first time I saw this handcuffing at the Capitol on TV, it struck me as unusual and unnecessary," he says. "I haven't heard the Capitol Police's justification for this practice, other than the claim that it is standard procedure. Perhaps they have a justification beyond what I can think of."
Margit Moses, 66, who has been arrested three times, says that on July 26 she was placed in handcuffs, then an officer removed them so they could be used on someone else. The officer replaced the handcuffs with a plastic zip tie.
“Within a few minutes, my right hand was numb and tingling from the pressure on nerves and blood vessels,” she says in an email. “I asked the female officer if she would loosen it because my hand was numb and tingling. She jammed a finger between the cuffs and the fleshy part of my wrist, and told me they were not too tight. She said, ‘They aren't meant to be comfortable.’"
Craig Spaulding, 44, who was arrested on July 30, says, “They handcuffed me so tight that I thought I was going to go down on my knees.”
He says he told officers his shoulders and chest muscles were cramping up.
“They wouldn’t loosen them,” he says. “It was ridiculous.”
He says he’s had bruises on his wrists and numbness in his fingers for three weeks.
Paula Mohan says the first time she was handcuffed, it didn’t hurt. The second time the cuffs tightened as she changed position during her captivity.
“I was losing feeling in both hands,” she says in an email. “But rubbing them afterwards restored them after a while. Others were hurt much worse than me.”