Why the Wauwatosa PD “Target List” verdict impacts us all

May 6, 2023

Barbara With

The reverberation of yesterday’s ruling in federal court that Wauwatosa Police Officer Joseph Roy and Crime Analyst Dominick Ratkowski were not found guilty of violating the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) is being celebrated in U.S. law enforcement agencies across the country. The verdict successfully dismantles the DPPA protections of personal information given to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Information is only protected by the DPPA if it is obtained directly through the Department of Transportation (DOT). If that same information is obtained through any of the other numerous databases available for crime analysis, the privacy of that same information is not protected by DPPA. After securing information from another database, however, officers are legally allowed to look up that information on the DOT database without being subjected to the privacy protection afforded data originally obtained there.

Edward Snowden.

Ever since Glenn Greenwald published whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations about how much the government surveils US citizens, privacy has become a thing of the past. Private data brokers are now allowed to sell Americans’ personal information to government agencies without any court oversight.

The nation’s most powerful eavesdropping agency had ascribed to itself, without consulting Congress or the courts, the ability to listen in to the communications of Americans in a way that violates constitutional rights and laws. On 4 October 2001 the White House granted permission, again in secret and without consultation, for the NSA to turn its spotlight on to US citizens in what became known as the President’s Surveillance Program.

“They essentially claimed wartime authority to engage in domestic surveillance that is criminal under statutory law,” said Ben Wizner, Snowden’s lawyer, who works on surveillance at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Ed Pilkington, The Guardian, September 4, 2021

Despite the verdict that Ratkowski and Roy did not break the law, they were still responsible for distributing a target list of private citizens they created through constant surveillance of social media and law enforcement databases. The targets were exercising their first amendment rights by peacefully protesting the the deaths of three young men at the hands of Wauwatosa police officer Joseph Mensah, who has never been charged and is still an officer of the law working in Waukesha.

There were no Proud Boys or counter protestors on the list, despite testimony by Ratkowski that he was monitoring “all” protests in order to identify acts of violence in Wauwatosa and Milwaukee. Yet events held by former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke experienced actual physical violence at a rally at Serb Hall in 2021 where those on the WPD target list were attacked. Still, no other names from those protests showed up on the list.

Roy described the list as a “living document,” something that is still in circulation, implying that activists’ names will be continually added to it and shared with apparently anyone WPD think might be interested, including the FBI. From there, the names will likely be put on a “domestic terrorist” list.

According to the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), domestic terrorism is generally defined as involving “criminal acts dangerous to human life on U.S. soil that appear intended to coerce a civilian population or influence or affect the conduct of government.” Since peaceful actions like marching is an act meant to “influence the conduct of the government,” more and more peaceful actions are being equated to criminal activity.

A wave to criminalize first amendment rights ratcheted up after Standing Rock, when Energy Transfer Partners forced the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) through Tribal lands in North Dakota and a water protector camp grew around it. Attention to the camp drew thousands from around the world to defend the water. Peaceful protectors were attacked with water cannons in freezing weather as they sang and prayed near the pipeline, and protectors’ constitutional rights were suspended as law enforcement swept up hundreds in illegal arrests, most all of which were later dismissed. But not before women were “tattooed” with a number on their arms, strip searched and held in dog kennels, and men were separated and shipped to jails across the state with no bail allowed.

After DAPL, the oil cartels learned how to be more efficient in dismantling the US constitution. American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) legislation was rolled out in 2018 that began to frame people exercising their First Amendment rights as “domestic terrorists.”

Wisconsin Gov. Evers signed into law an anti-protest bill in 2019 sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute (API) that made it a felony to protest on the easement of a pipeline, but vetoed in April 2022 the anti-riot bill that State Republicans pushed through their majorities in both Assembly and Senate. “This bill inadvertently creates ambiguity, inconsistency and contradictions  that could be used to infringe on rights guaranteed under the First Amendment,” Evers stated. Republicans have revived the bill, but this time around have secured their veto-proof majority in the legislature.

Both Ratkowski and Roy repeatedly stressed that their obtaining, using and distributing the personal information of the plaintiffs never got in the way of the plaintiffs’ ability to exercise their first amendment rights. What couldn’t have been entered into evidence at the trial was the intimidation that the individuals on the list experienced at the hand of the WPD because of the target list. Between tear gas, unconstitutional curfews, massive paramilitary presence, 40 “ghost arrests” of activists who were listed as arrested and assigned booking numbers despite no actual arrests being made or anyone taken into custody, and the victim’s family dragged from their car and beaten, WPD actually has used their clout to attempt to intimidate the plaintiffs and send a message to anyone else considering assembling together.

The plaintiffs in this case are average Americans who chose to exercise their constitutional rights to free speech, freedom to assemble and the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. The verdict has a crushing effect on anyone who is concerned about ending up on a target list labeled as a domestic terrorist for doing just that.

Every US citizen is affected by this verdict, whether you wish to demonstrate to oppose injustice, protect the water, or in any other way take action protected by the constitution.

The plaintiffs, unintimidated by the police state that appears to be conspiring against them, are planning another peaceful march Sunday, May 7, 1 PM Hart Park, Wauwatosa. They will be watching to see if indeed WPD will support their constitutional rights, as they testified during the trial that they do.

The entire world is watching.

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