Milwaukee, WI - Friday evening’s Overpass Light Brigade (OLB) bridge action on Ring Street was proceeding as smoothly as every other of the nearly one-hundred actions the group has organized. They once again had striking Palermo’s Pizza workers on the bridge holding a “PALERMOS – NEGOTIATE!” message over I-43. The democrabeeps were pouring in and the mood on the bridge was festive, that is until things took an unexpected and unfortunate turn.
It all started at 9:00, when a Milwaukee Police squad car and paddy wagon pulled up next to the bridge with their lights on. Not a big deal, by OLB standards, as appearances by local authorities have become a commonplace bridge action occurrence. With very few exceptions, every one of these interactions has been professional and civil, but tonight’s interaction with Deputy Callies would be far different than any previous other encounter with the law.
The first MPD responders stated they had been called to the bridge by the Milwaukee County Sheriffs Department. They were unsure as to why they had been called to the bridge and simply waited for the Sheriffs Department to show up. When Sheriffs Deputy Callies arrived he stormed on to the bridge demanding that the lights be turned off. He stated loudly, for all to hear, 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 (one paddy wagon, two bike cops, two motorcycle cops, six Milwaukee police squads, including a K-9 unit, and nine Milwaukee County Sheriff vehicles). A veteran Holder of the Light tried to reason with Deputy Callies, who only seemed to grow more and more agitated that he was being challenged on his unconstitutional order to shut the message down. As the video below clearly captures, Deputy Callies next, in an act of rage, quickly 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 victim as to why her camera phone was stolen. Next, he tore another Brigade member’s phone away in the same manner. As other more professional and cordial officers arrived on the bridge and reassured us of our right to be on the bridge, Deputy Callies seemed to realize he was not supported by his fellow officers and backed off before slipping back into his Sheriff’s squad. Not though before we asked him on videotape for his name and badge number (#840).
While this was happening on the bridge, two Brigadier’s cars were being ticketed. Granted they were illegally parked just within range of a bus stop, it seemed to fit in perfectly with a grander theme of intimidation by local authorities. Every interaction OLB has had with the police has involved no more than three officers or two squad cars, always following up on the complaints of passerbys upset with our message, but never has an OLB action prompted such an explosive response. As the Brigader in the video mentions, OLB has organized close to one hundred bridge actions and their right to Brigade has been very clearly defined. No one should know this more than the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department, who the Brigade has had numerous previous encounters with. Each of these encounters has again and again reaffirmed their right to be on the bridge and delegitimized any possible rationale as to why they shouldn’t be allowed to be on the bridge, but for some reason this night was different.
Perhaps OLB’s “PALERMOS – NEGOTIATE!” message rubbed somebody in a position of power the wrong way? So much so, that they would call out the cavalry on them. After all, you don’t get that kind of a response unless something really serious is going on, or you have really scared the power brokers, willing to go to such great lengths to try and intimidate you into leaving a bridge. Unfortunately for those willing to disrupt not only OLB’s but everyone’s right to free speech, OLB didn’t leave. They went back out on to that bridge to once again, like so many other times, reaffirm their First Amendment right. Only this time they fashioned a new message out of their first message. They marched “PEACE” past the remaining officers still present back up to their spot on the bridge to remind all that OLB’s actions are peaceful.