MILWAUKEE – The ACLU today submitted a letter to state and local officials in Wisconsin asking them to ensure the protection of the health and safety of protesters from excessive force by police as they utilize their constitutional rights to free expression and assembly.
In the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Joel Acevedo, and Breonna Taylor by police, people have come together to express their pain and outrage and advocate for racial justice and police reform. These protests have been mostly conducted peacefully, a practice fully protected by the First Amendment.
While some local leaders and law enforcement officers have respected peaceful protesters’ First Amendment rights, there have been incidents of excessive use of force, broad arrests of large groups of protesters, and the use of crowd control weapons and tactics typically used by the military.
In one instance in Milwaukee, a police officer knelt on a protester’s neck. In Green Bay, police arrested protesters solely for violating curfew, and in Madison, police tear gassed retreating protesters.
“These practices directly undermine the fundamental rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, threaten the health and safety of protesters and communities, and further compound the harms of police violence that protesters are asking government officials to urgently address,” the ACLU of Wisconsin letter states.
The letter, which calls on leaders to safeguard the constitutional rights of protesters, was addressed to Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul; Milwaukee, Green Bay, Madison, Kenosha and Racine county mayors; police chiefs and sheriffs; and Waukesha, Brown and Dane County sheriffs.
The demands outlined in the letter included: ensuring that law enforcement are de-escalating conflict; ceasing the use of rubber bullets, bean bag rounds, stun grenades, tear gas and other weapons aimed at crowds; refraining from the use of using dangerous physical force; holding officers accountable for violating the law; avoiding further militarization of protest events; protecting media outlets covering protests; and committing to long-term reforms to ensure equitable, fair and community-based policing.
“Local leadership is essential for the safety of our communities and the vitality of our democracy. You can change the course of this moment and our history by breaking with harmful tactics of the past and demonstrating a new kind of leadership for the future. Meet with protesters and listen to their experience and calls for action. Commit yourself to the difficult but necessary work of dismantling the painful legacy of racism as we all rise to face this difficult moment,” the letter said.
A video documenting several instances of police use of force against protesters is available here: