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Singing and Sidewalk Chalk Seen as New Threats to the Empire

We told you last week about the bizarre crackdown on singing and photography in Wisconsin’s Capitol. Well, it’s only become worse. Police arrested two brothers Monday and charged one of them, Damon Terrell, with a felony after wrestling him to the ground. In a video of the arrest that has gone viral, Terrell is seen taking photos of an approaching police officer. They speak briefly and then Terrell is seen backing away, waving a hand and speaking quickly (something about “this isn’t illegal”) before he is jumped, wrestled to the ground, violently handcuffed and then hauled away. The brother, Christopher J. Terrell, apparently was arrested after sitting down in protest, but that is not captured in the video.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel quoted Stephanie Marquis, spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration, as claiming “both individuals refused to leave and actively resisted officers when they were placed under arrest. … When officers began to arrest Damon Terrell, he began to walk away and actively resisted arrest.” Yet the video shows Terrell taking photos of the cops, then backing while telling them he is not doing anything illegal. That’s apparently now a felony in Wisconsin.

The National Lawyers Guild chapter in Madison, which is defending some of the scores of protesters who have been arrested in recent months for singing during the Capitol lunch hour, voiced its outrage over the treatment of Damon Terrell. Members described it as “using excessive force” and point out that although Terrell was charged with a felony, the video evidence shows that he was the victim of police using aggressive and painful tactics to arrest an unarmed man taking photographs in a public place.

Over-charging is becoming a favored tactic among police and prosecutors confronted with demonstrators. In some cases, the tactic lurches into dark comedy. Prosecutors in Clark County, Nev., are pursuing “multiple gross misdemeanor” charges against four protesters who used sidewalk chalk to scrawl anti-police slogans outside a police station and courthouse.

To escalate the charges, prosecutors contend cleanup crews had to use expensive power washers to get rid of the chalked words, which ratcheted up the alleged damage to near $5,000. Never mind that a kids’ chalk art program that covered an entire street took only $2,000 to clean up. Of course, the children weren’t likely expressing political speech at the time, as the four defendants were.

Sometimes, though, sanity prevails. In San Diego last month, a jury acquitted Jeff Olson, who had been arrested after he wrote anti-bank slogans in chalk on a sidewalk outside a Bank of America building. Had he been convicted, Olson would have faced up to 13 years in prison for expressing a political opinion in chalk that can be washed away with a garden hose.

We’re still awaiting the indictments of banks for their involvement in real crimes. But for obvious reasons, we’re not holding our breath.

—Posted by Scott Martelle.

Scott Martelle
Contributor
Veteran journalist Scott Martelle has written books on the Ludlow Massacre, the Red Scare clampdown on civil liberties, the history of Detroit and the story of the century-long search for John Paul Jones'…
Scott Martelle

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