Voces de la Frontera, Overpass Light Brigade: Call for investigation of illegal intimidation by Milwaukee Sheriff’s Department

Contacts: Joe Shansky 414.218.3331, [email protected]

Joe Brusky 414.507.2443, [email protected]

FOIA request to be filed to determine why a public assembly was violently disturbed by law enforcement

This past Friday night, workers from Palermo’s Pizza in their third month on strike joined the Overpass Light Brigade (OLB) on a Milwaukee bridge with the message “PALERMOS – NEGOTIATE!”. OLB is a loose affiliation of volunteer activists who take signs of lighted letters out on Wisconsin pedestrian bridges at night. They have organized close to one hundred bridge actions and their right to do so has been very clearly defined and previously recognized by both local police and sheriff’s departments.

Friday’s action had been organized as part of a nation-wide series of events this past weekend around Palermo’s, calling on the frozen pizza manufacturer to negotiate fairly with its workers, and recognize widespread concerns over heath and safety violations, wage issues, and the right to form a union. OLB has gone out several times in solidarity with representatives from the Palermo Workers Union.

Milwaukee police arrived at the bridge around 9:00 pm, after supporters had been holding lights reading “PALERMOS – NEGOTIATE” for about an hour. The first MPD responders stated they had been called to the bridge by the Milwaukee County Sheriffs Department. They stated that they were unsure as to why they had been called, and waited for the Sheriffs Department to show up.

Deputy Callies of the Sheriff’s Department soon arrived and immediately stormed on to the bridge, which was filled with striking Palermo workers and their families holding signs, including several young children. Around 30 people were present in total, including many community supporters. Deputy Callies demanded that the lights be taken down and turned off. He then stated loudly that he would be arresting everyone on the bridge for disorderly conduct.

At this point, close to twenty police vehicles had arrived or were en route (witnesses counted one paddy wagon, two bicycle police, two motorcycle police, six Milwaukee police squads, including a K-9 unit, and nine Milwaukee County Sheriff vehicles). Lisa Moline of OLB tried to reason with Deputy Callies, who grew more and more agitated that he was being challenged on the constitutionality of his order to shut the message down.

As the video clearly captures, Deputy Callies then turned around lunged at a woman who was videotaping his tirade. He forcibly reached for her camera, pushing himself into her (most likely realizing she had just captured his entire episode digitally). In the process, he grabbed the woman’s arm and ripped the camera phone out of her hand, giving no explanation for the confiscation, despite pleading efforts from the woman as to why her camera phone was stolen. He then tore another supporter’s phone away in the exact same manner. Click here for videos of the above incident.

Eventually more officers arrived on the bridge. Many of the MPD officers seemed uncomfortable with the actions of Deputy Callies, and once he left the bridge, one officer told supporters they could go back onto the bridge with the lights, and that it was “all a misunderstanding”. By that point, many supporters were intimidated by the Sheriff department’s actions and had already left.

The OLB has had countless visits by numerous local law enforcement agencies during their bridge actions of the past nine months. They have always been calm and civil, and have repeatedly resulted in the reaffirmation of the legality of their actions. Office Callies’ aggressive response is the single exception to this respectful relationship.

Voces de la Frontera and OLB will be filing a Freedom of Information Act request to determine the process for which orders were given for Friday’s action to be broken up- and why this particular message led to this particular response. Additional charges against Deputy Callies are currently being filed by the woman whose hand was injured when he grabbed her cell phone.

We are also asking the many elected officials who have endorsed and supported Voces and OLB actions in the past to demand a public investigation of this unacceptable violation of freedom of speech.

In the meantime, we will continue to broadcast the message of the Palermo striking workers asking for dignity, respect and a voice on the job. On Monday night, we will be back on a local overpass with the same message, to show that supporters of worker justice will not be intimidated by the excessive aggression on display by our law enforcement on Friday night.