Monday, March 8, 2010

Protest-Police Confrontation at UW MKE Needs Public Investigation

On Thursday, March 4th, a protest of students against the administration of the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee led to a confrontation between protesters and police. Police used pepper spray against protesters and sixteen people were arrested or detained. Police said most would be charged with disorderly conduct or obstruction of justice.

ACLU Reaction
The ACLU of Wisconsin issued a statement calling for an investigation of police conduct during the incident and was quoted in today's UWM Post article. In the statement, Executive Director Chris Ahmuty expressed dismay at the reports about the confrontation between demonstrators and the University and Milwaukee police officers. He said on Thursday that while it was unclear if laws were broken by police or students, it was clear that the confrontation following an unsuccessful attempt by some demonstrators to forcibly enter the Chancellor’s office included the police using pepper spray, apparently confiscating cell phones with cameras, and detaining and arresting demonstrators who may have been simply exercising their right to free speech and freedom of assembly.

"The apparent decision of the police to treat the demonstration as an unlawful assembly or disorderly conduct needs review,” said Ahmuty. “Demonstrators who were arrested or ticketed deserve a fair review of their cases, so that any who were within their rights are not forced to go to court." Ahmuty also said that the ACLU of Wisconsin would consider representing students who were unjustly arrested or ticketed.

“In addition, the ACLU of Wisconsin calls upon Chancellor Santiago to conduct a review of the incident to assess how well the University’s policies and procedures protect First Amendment rights as well as campus safety," said Ahmuty. "Such a review must be independent from the University Police and must be transparent. The results must be made public.”

Media Coverage
There is a lot of footage of the protest on YouTube as well as the posted footage from the camera of the student journalist who was arrested.

The UWM Post had a story and video coverage of the rally as well as interviews with police after the confrontation. The situation also got coverage in the UW Badger Herald, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, TMJ4 with video of police conduct and another TMJ4 site with raw footage of the protest and arrests, WITI FOX-6 with video, CBS-58 with video and WISN-TV. The Students for a Democratic Society, one of the organizers of the event, also issued a statement after the protest.