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Republican State Legislators Eye Penalties for Rioting

Republican state legislators want to make rioting a felony, and say last year’s unrest at Sherman Park was an “eye-opener.”


Rioting could land people in prison for up to three and a half years under a bill introduced by State Senator Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), and State Representative John Spiros (R-Marshfield).


Wanggaard says state law doesn’t do enough to discourage rioting, and says “professional rioters” know they can come to Wisconsin without many consequences to worry about.


The bill would define “riot” in state statute as: “a public disturbance that involves an act of violence, as part of an assembly of at least three persons, that constitutes a clear and present danger of property damage or personal injury or a threat of an act of violence, as part of an assembly of at least three persons having the ability of immediate execution of the threat, if the threatened action would constitute a clear and present danger of property damage or personal injury.”


Participating in a riot would become a Class I felony, which is punishable with a fine up to $10,000 or 3 years and 6 months in prison, or both.


In a memo circulated to legislators, the bill’s authors wrote, “Wisconsin is still one of just a handful of states that does not provide a definition for the term riot in statute or provide a penalty for participating in a riot.”


There are also two other bills, one would make being armed in a riot a felony which could carry up to 10 years in prison. The other bill would make blocking a highway a misdemeanor, which could mean up to nine months in jail.


The ACLU of Wisconsin took issue with the bills. The group’s executive director, Chris Ott, said in a statement, "Existing laws already protect both people and property. Under the absurd definition in these unnecessary bills, many families experience felony rioting in their homes on a daily basis. It also invites highly selective enforcement by police."

The bills' authors are still seeking co-sponsorship from colleagues before moving forward, while a spokesman for Governor Scott Walker did not respond to an email asking whether Walker supports the bills.


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