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Marijuana Activist Peppersprayed and Arrested

  1. Powder_Reality
    Weedstock Organizer Peppersprayed, Arrested
    by Dj Slater, (01 Jul 2006) Baraboo Republic Wisconsin
    MADISON - UW-Madison Police arrested Ben Masel, an activist and potential U.S. Senate candidate, around 11 p.m. Thursday at the Memorial Union Terrace while he collected signatures to place his name on the 2006 ballot.

    Masel, who the police pepper-sprayed before arresting him, received citations for disorderly conduct, resisting a police officer and trespassing, and remaining after noticed to leave, all misdemeanors, said UW-Madison Police Lt. Bill Larson.

    This is not the first time Masel has run into trouble with the authorities. His record of court appearances date back to 1982, however, some of those cases ended in his favor. One incident involved Masel winning a $95,000 settlement from Sauk County after police arrested him at during the 2000 Weedstock festival.

    "I'll definitely be seeking charges," Masel said. "It's not a settled issue."

    Around 10 p.m., Masel said, two Memorial Union managers approached him and said he couldn't solicit signatures on the property and asked him to leave. Masel said he "politely declined" and said he is allowed to collect signatures on public grounds. He said he carried a few clipboards and a large white sign throughout the night. The managers asked him to leave again a few minutes later and said they'd call police if he didn't.

    Officers John McCaughtry and Michael Mansavage arrived around 11 p.m. They pepper sprayed Masel in the eyes before placing him under arrest. Masel claimed he never struggled with the officers.

    "If they had said something along the lines of 'Mr. Masel, you're under arrest,' I would have put my hands behind my back and compiled," he said.

    Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, who was at the terrace, said he didn't see Masel disturbing anyone.

    "I didn't feel Ben was causing any disruptions," Cieslewicz said. "I certainly didn't feel he was disrupting my evening at all. I didn't see a reason to remove him from the terrace."

    Roger Vogts, assistant facilities director for the Wisconsin Union, which includes the Memorial Union and Union South, said the administration has a policy that doesn't allow people to hand out free literature, collect signatures or various similar activities in specific areas of Memorial Union.

    "We don't want people coming in, going table to table, bothering people," Vogts said. This policy also applies to other food service areas at the Memorial Union. People can collect signatures in the main lobby or in front of the building facing the street, Vogts said.

    Jeff Scott Olson, Masel's attorney, said Masel is innocent of any violations.

    "If there is any administrative rule that prevents him from doing what he was doing, it's probably unconstitutional," Olson said.

    Masel's court date is July 24, at which time he will appeal the citations. For the time being, he and Olson will attempt to reach an understanding with the university that will allow him to collect signatures before his court date.

    Masel said he has 1,300 signatures, 700 shy of the 2,000 requirement to place his name on the 2006 ballot. The deadline is July 11.

Comments

  1. Powder_Reality
    Editorial: Pepper Spray vs. Democracy
    (03 Jul 2006)
    Capital Times Wisconsin
    For as long as anyone can remember, candidates for public office have circulated their nominating petitions on the Memorial Union Terrace.

    Packed with Wisconsinites, most of them in a mellow mood, the terrace is an ideal spot for would-be contenders to gather the signatures they need to earn a place on local and statewide ballots.

    So why was one of Madison's most experienced candidates pepper-sprayed, arrested and charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest for the "crime" of being on the terrace circulating petitions for his race for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate?

    The explanation that UW Police have offered is not reassuring.

    They claim that Ben Masel was in violation of an administrative code that restricts the Memorial Union to students, staff, faculty and members, "except on occasions when, and in those areas where, the buildings or grounds are open to the general public."

    But the incident involving Masel took place during a hip-hop concert that had been widely advertised off campus and in local newspapers. In other words, it was precisely the sort of event where the grounds are open to the public.

    Of course, anyone who has been paying attention knows that candidates - - including statewide officeholders - circulate petitions on the terrace even when concerts aren't in progress.

    So the singling out of Masel is troubling. Even more troubling are the official descriptions of the incident, which do not paint an appealing picture of the actions taken by the officers involved in the incident.

    If UW and Memorial Union officials are smart, they will apologize to Masel and drop the charges.

    If they are really smart, they will invite him - and all other candidates who are interested in circulating nomination petitions - to gather signatures on the terrace during the period leading up to next week's filing deadline.

    The University of Wisconsin campus should be a safe haven for democratic discourse and participation, not a place where candidates are pepper-sprayed and arrested.
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