Protesters return to Wisconsin Capitol in force

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staff, Gazette
Friday, July 26, 2013

— The second day of a police crackdown to rein in daily protests in the Wisconsin Capitol instead attracted scores of demonstrators to the building Thursday, leading to another round of arrests in the long-running standoff between protesters and Republican Gov. Scott Walker's administration.

The developments again underscored the stalemate between a loosely organized group of protesters known as the Solidarity Singers and Capitol Police officers. The group has been meeting in the rotunda to sing songs bashing Walker and GOP policies during the noon hour nearly every day for two years. The Capitol Police, which are under Walker's control, have issued the protesters dozens of tickets, but they refuse to back down, arguing they're free to exercise their free speech rights.

Earlier this month a federal judge ruled large groups need a permit to gather in the Capitol. Armed with the ruling, police launched a crackdown on the singers on Wednesday. They arrested nearly two dozen of the 50 or so people in the rotunda, handing them $200 tickets for not having a permit.

The arrests only angered the protesters. The state Department of Administration, which oversees the Capitol Police, estimated as many as 100 people filled the rotunda Thursday. One wore a gag. Another held a giant photograph of Walker pointing at the camera. Superimposed over the photograph was the message, "Hey, you ... singer with a sign. You're under arrest."

Officers used a loudspeaker to warn the group to disperse and posted a dry-erase sandwich board in the rotunda warning them to leave, just as they did Wednesday. Police started moving through the crowd in waves, arresting people and leading them off to their basement station as the crowd bellowed "Shame!" and "Whose house? Our house!" The arrestees returned minutes later, holding their tickets aloft to applause.

"It's ridiculous," Paul Sopko Jr., a 51-year-old Madison handyman, said as he looked at his ticket. "People are just trying to stand up for what they believe is right. Every time they do something, the crowd doubles. Every time they threaten the people, it brings more out of the woodwork."

DOA spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis issued a statement saying police issued 26 citations for not having a permit. One person was cited for disorderly conduct, one person for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest and one person for resisting arrest.

Last updated: 9:41 am Monday, July 29, 2013

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