Handling protests changes with the times, attitudesThe Scott Walker administration, prodded by conservatives, has been re-examining a $740,000 police service bill from the city of Madison. Whatever the final bill is determined to be, it reminds everyone that handling demonstrations peacefully is a lot less expensive than when police and demonstrators clash.
By: By Matt Pommer, Superior Telegram
The Scott Walker administration, prodded by conservatives, has been re-examining a $740,000 police service bill from the city of Madison. Whatever the final bill is determined to be, it reminds everyone that handling demonstrations peacefully is a lot less expensive than when police and demonstrators clash.
The city’s bill stems from services provided during the demonstrations this winter against the union-gutting plans proposed by Gov. Scott Walker and passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Criticism of the bill ranges from a bus maintenance item to the role of Madison police to whether the cops were too friendly with the demonstrators. At one point, legislators were escorted away from the Capitol in a municipal bus. One of the items on the city’s request for payment is for bus maintenance.
Mike Mikalson, a top aide to veteran State Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, argues the Madison police stayed on the outer ring of sidewalks on the Capitol Square. The city disagrees with that picture of what happened. That’s city property, he notes. The state property stretches from the middle of the surrounding streets into the Capitol itself.
Those in the Nass camp say the mayor and the Madison chief of police said they would not participate in forcefully removing demonstrators from the State Capitol. Then there is whispered complaint the police were too friendly to the tens of thousands of demonstrators at the Capitol.
Dealing with protestors has come a long way from the antiwar protests that occurred on the University of Wisconsin campus 44 years ago. On the third week in that October, protestors staged a sit-in at what was then-known as the Commerce Building.
Police forces rushed the front door while reinforcements cut off egress by coming in the back doors. There was bloodshed and injuries among demonstrators, the police and even a few reporters. The resulting newspaper pictures and accounts stunned Wisconsin.
Some criticized the antiwar protestors as being unpatriotic when men were dying in Vietnam. Others viewed the clash as a police riot. Emotions swept the state. University officials traveling on business faced angry criticism from average citizens, often over both the actions of students and the police. For years, the memories of the anti-war demonstrations fueled an “anti-Madison” fervor among some.
In the following decades police refined how they act in demonstrations. More effort is spent on friendly discourse easing the anger felt by demonstrators. The very limited use of police nightsticks is far from the approach of earlier years.
The public still reacts negatively to some uses of police force. During the early days of Wall Street demonstrations this month, New York police used pepper gas on a woman, and the pictures were captured on national television. That helped attract both criticism and additional protestors.
The number of protestors has grown dramatically much as it did after the clash at the Commerce Building in 1967. This year many unemployed joined the New York protests and similar events spread to other cities in the nation.
On occasion there were signs remembering the demonstrations earlier this year when thousands came to the Capitol in Madison to protest the anti-public union efforts, which still bubble in Wisconsin politics.