Earlier today, a debate erupted on Twitter about whether police in Madison would stand aside and let demonstrators overrun the capitol in sympathy with the public-employee unions that planned another massive protest after last night’s vote in the state Senate. So far, it appears that police have instead acted professionally, as they have begun to clear the capitol building of protesters that broke in last night:
Demonstrators were carried out of the Assembly by police Thursday as a new standoff shaped up at the Capitol as Gov. Scott Walker’s administration has again closed the building to the public.
As protesters said they were willing to risk arrest to block an Assembly vote on Walker’s bill on union bargaining, police began escorting or dragging some of them out. There is still a sizable group inside, however.
“Shame! Shame! Shame!” demonstrators shouting.
Taylor Tengwall, 21, of Duluth, Minn., said, “They grabbed me by the shoulders and took me out.”
Law enforcement gave early indications that they would play it down the middle. First they decided to keep the building closed instead of opening it on time. When “hundreds” of demonstrators demanded that the police step aside, they held their positions instead. Shortly after that demand, Madison police shut down the roads around the capitol building to cut off traffic.
As I argued on Twitter earlier, the police in Wisconsin have signaled their sympathy to the unions, but have conducted themselves professionally during the three weeks of the crisis. At least thus far, they continue to do so. The demonstrators have a right to assemble on the Capitol grounds and protest, and the police are going to allow that, but they appear ready to secure the building and allow the legislature to meet.
It’s a good thing, too, because death threats have begun pouring into the state capitol, aimed at Republicans. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald released the text of one through spokesman Andrew Wellhouse that threatened to “assault” several elected Republican officials at their homes:
“We have received several more threats over the past few weeks as well, and protesters have actually gone so far as to go up to (Fitzgerald’s) house and bang on the windows at 6 a.m. demanding that he come out,” Welhouse said.
Tim Donovan, a spokesman for the Department of Administration and Capitol Police, had no immediate comment Thursday morning.
Here’s an excerpt of the email provided by Welhouse:
“This is how it’s going to happen: I as well as many others know where you and your family live, it’s a matter of public records. We have all planned to assault (sic) you by arriving at your house and putting a nice little bullet in your head. However, this isn’t enough. We also have decided that this may not be enough to send the message. So we have built several bombs that we have placed in various locations around the areas in which we know that you frequent…”
The Assembly convened late, as its Majority Leader Jeff Fitzgerald was asked by the Capitol Police to hold off until they could secure the chamber. According to the live feed, which cuts in and out, they came into session a short while ago.
Update: Actually, it appears that the Assembly still has not come into session. Several Democratic lawmakers in orange T-shirts had been milling around, but the Republicans want to wait until the police secure the building. They are still milling around as of now (12:15), but appear to be taking seats.