Peace Leader Calls State Police Presence 'Real Concern'

By Todd A. Heywood

LANSING - In the day before thousands of union members and supporters are expected to flood the state capitol in an attempt to stop right to work legislation from being passed, hundreds of state police troopers have been on the grounds of the capitol marching in formation, wearing gas masks on their sides, and carrying brand new riot batons. This, says Rev. Peter Dougherty of the Michigan Peace Team, could instigate violence at Tuesday's rallies.

"It's an incitement to behave violently," says Dougherty in an exclusive interview with Between the Lines. "It angers people."

Dougherty says the police presence is indicative of the militarization of the police happening across the U.S.

"When riot gear is put on by the police, because they think they might need it, they always end up using it," says the longtime peace activist and Roman Catholic priest. The Michigan Peace Team has conducted peace team interventions all over the U.S as well as in Palestine and in Mexico. Peace team members are trained to intervene in situations where violence is likely to happen or is happening and to de-esulate the potential for violence in the situation.

Thousands are expected to attend a rally and protest at the Capitol Tuesday to protest so-called right to work legislation. The legislation would end closed union shops, allowing workers in a union business to receive all the benefits of union representation without having to pay dues or membership to the union. Democrats and union leaders say the proposed law is about destroying unions, but Republicans and conservation organizations like Americans for Prosperity say the law is about freedom for workers and making Michigan attractive to new businesses.

Rep. Mark Meadows (D-East Lansing) reports Americans for Prosperity reserved the Capitol steps for the remainder of the year. Under Capitol rules, the group with a reservation has pre-emptive use rights to the steps. As a result, this sets up a possible tense confrontation between anti-Right to Work protesters and supporters of the legislation, including AFP.

He says the police presence in preparation for Tuesday's protests at the Capitol have a "chilling effect" on free speech rights, and called on legislative leaders to diminish the police presence. BTL reached out to spokespersons for Gov. Rick Snyder, Sen, Gretchen Whitmer and House Speaker Jase Bolger for their response to Dougherty's concerns.

"They're our elected leaders. We respect them and they should respect us and keep the police in the background," says Dougherty. "Their presence only instigates. It adds to the climate of intensified anger."

"Public safety is under the purview of the Michigan State Police, an organization in which Speaker Bolger has full confidence," wrote Ari Adler, spokesperson for Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall), in an email.

Incoming Democratic House Minority Leader Rep. Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) says while he believes protesters will remain peaceful - and encourages that - Dougherty's concerns are "fair."

"It's import to expect the police to respect the freedom of assembly and freedom of speech of those coming exercise those rights," he says. "Part of that respect is expecting law enforcement to refrain from any intimidation."

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