Madison’s growing police state

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While we have been preoccupied with the way Russia has taken an ax to democracy and individual freedom, a police state has been evolving right here at home.

There’s been a dramatic increase in the arrest of people who gather at the Capitol to peacefully express their views. The Wisconsin Republican Party has littered “the people’s place” with armed guards charged with eliminating dissent in the very building that symbolizes our constitutional rights to freedom. 

The right-wing GOP crony in charge of the crackdown was recently rewarded by Gov. Scott Walker with a hefty raise granted through a complex, unethical maneuver that included a one-day job transfer in order to avoid state personnel law.

Demonstrations in the Capitol rotunda, including the peaceful weekday “Solidarity Sing-Alongs” of old union protest songs, have become routine since Gov. Scott Walker and his corporate-backed GOP colleagues stripped public sector unions of nearly all their bargaining rights in 2010. Armed with untold – and unaccounted for – millions of dollars from private interests who benefit financially from such legislation, Walker and his cronies have had nearly free rein in enacting legislation that’s whittled away at the state’s progressive traditions and values.

The Republicans have gerrymandered the state’s political boundaries so that they were able to pick up majorities in both chambers of the Legislature even while receiving 200,000 fewer votes during the 2012 elections. With impunity, they’re able to purchase seemingly unlimited advertising containing shameless lies about their own accomplishments and false accusations about their opponents.

With the benefit of the truth taken away from them, opponents of Walker et al. have fought back with the one tool they believed could not be snatched away – their own voices.

But now the state’s GOP, borrowing a chapter from the playbook of Russia and other virtual dictatorships, is trying to take away the average citizen’s voice. From July 24 to Aug. 16, Capitol Police issued at least 245 civil forfeiture citations and 10 misdemeanor criminal charges to more than 124 people participating in the daily sing-a-longs. Though the events have irritated GOP officials, they’ve caused no real problems.

Matt Rothschild, editor of the nationally respected magazine The Progressive, was handcuffed merely for doing his job and reporting on the proceedings. 

Attempts to silence the press and the unprecedented handcuffing of protesters have alarmed many. According to experts, the procedure is seldom, if ever, used on people who are not combative and threatening or who are not being taken to jail. Yet on Aug. 15, three grandmothers – at least one of them in her 80s – were handcuffed, then taken outside and let go with a citation. That was intimidation, not routine law enforcement. 

According to the Wisconsin Constitution: “The right of the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, and to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall never be abridged.”

As for the freedom of the press, the Constitution is equally clear, saying, “No laws shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press.”

Using classic police state tactics, Republicans are violating those Constitutional provisions to suppress dissent. Protesters must double down and prevent them from winning a battle leads down such a dangerous path.