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WI FRSO condemns Appleton police for attempted intimidation at Nakba protest

By Freedom Road Socialist Organization - Wisconsin District

Since October 7, 2023, the dedicated people of the Fox Valley region of Wisconsin have been organizing and mobilizing for Palestine nearly non-stop. Whether it be a banner drop, a march or rally, disrupting political fundraisers, or divestment campaigns at several local universities, the people of northeastern Wisconsin have shown time and time again that they will not rest until the U.S. ends aid to Israel and stops being an active participant in the ongoing genocide of Palestinians. The Wisconsin District of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization has been one of the main forces behind these actions, uniting with student and community activists alike to struggle for change.

On May 15, local activists, organizations, students, including hundreds of community members hosted a major rally and march in downtown Appleton, Wisconsin to commemorate the 76th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba. Halfway through the march, in front of the Chapel on Lawrence University property, several police vehicles arrived and began harassing the vehicle marshals who were protecting the rear of the march. Vice President of Student Life Chris Clarke, watched from right across the street. Among the people involved, one identifiable student was also threatened by police and later received a citation by mail for loitering.

While our security deescalated the situation in that instance, at the end of the march police struck again, pulling over all vehicle marshals. One marshal received a warning, the other a traffic citation, but one car was deliberately isolated from the rest. The Appleton Police Department singled out this car because the driver was a local member of FRSO. APD called in several cars and officers and blocked off a street to surround, threaten and harass her. One cop in particular, Officer William Berens, yelled at her, insulted her, and repeatedly reached for his gun to try to intimidate her into admitting guilt to a crime so he could arrest her. We know this was targeted – the police themselves repeatedly brought up our organization in attempts to get her to admit responsibility for all aspects of the protest. APD processed warnings and citations for the other vehicle marshals and those squads left to join the ongoing harassment of our comrade. She was kept in the street for over an hour as more squad cars and police officers continued to arrive to harass and intimidate her.

While this was happening, the disabled passenger in her car had a medical emergency. When our comrade tried to assist her passenger, Berens once again jumped to action, grabbing at his gun, screaming at her, and threatening her. Community members and activists filmed this whole interaction, and every request to restrain Officer Berens was ignored. Eventually Berens got enough fun out of verbally abusing and physically threatening the activists, and finally issued two ridiculous traffic citations to our comrade.

It must be noted that this action, and their disproportionate response by the Appleton Police Department, took place within the context of an ongoing, U.S.-funded and directed genocide in Palestine. The efforts of our comrades and the other local organizers to contribute to the reignited global movement for the liberation of Palestine are what drew out the aggression of the police, a situation that has become commonplace across the U.S. as the state seeks to crack down on the Palestine solidarity movement. Our organization has a long history of organizing within this movement, and a wealth of experience in fighting the political repression that comes along with it.

Freedom Road Socialist Organization condemns the unhinged behavior of Officer Berens, and the repression by the Appleton Police Department. Intimidation, threats and male chauvinism are common acts from those who serve the enemy. We view these actions by the APD as a local reflection of the state backlash to the widespread popular support for a free Palestine. Protesting a genocide is the correct thing to do and we’re proud of our members and community allies who took it to the streets. We are leading a fundraising campaign to pay off the ridiculous targeted traffic citations that were given to the activists trying to keep a peaceful march safe from the danger of police and reactionaries alike.

Protesting is not a crime! Free, free Palestine!

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