Update 3/19, 2 pm: We've received word from the City Attorney's office that all burglary-related charges will be dropped, and the three residents will instead be charged with misdemeanor trespass. We look forward to fighting these charges in court and rejecting ANY criminalization of homelessness.
Two African-American organizers with Occupy Homes MN, who were arrested while making repairs to a vacant bank-owned home for a family to live in, were released from jail Tuesday evening following two days of community protest. They were held for 30 hours on probable cause of felony possession of burglary or theft tools. The felony charges were reduced to a misdemeanor, but still carry a possible sentence of up to 3 years in prison and a $5,000 fine trespass.
“This is another example of public resources being used against the public to defend the banks,” said Antoine Martinneau, one of the arrestees who was released Tuesday night. “But we won’t let them divide us. I’m looking forward to working with the city and the county on real solutions that truly make housing a human right.”
60 community members rallied in City Hall today to demand their release and that all charges be dropped. “Fixing up a vacant house is not a crime,” said Neighborhoods Organizing for Change organizer Michael McDowell, who moved back into his grandmother’s foreclosed home, which had been sitting vacant, this summer. “If these had been white heterosexual men, no one would even consider felony burglary charges.”
Council Members Alondra Cano and Andrew Johnson greeted the protest. CM Cano announced that she had spoken with Rep. Keith Ellison, who agreed to work to get the charges dropped. The felony charges, which are handled by the county, were dropped to misdemeanors, a city-level offense under City Attorney Susan Segal's discretion.
Homelessness in Minnesota is at an all-time high and is up 50% in Hennepin County since 2006. Nationwide there are five vacant homes for every person experiencing homelessness, while banks leave abandoned foreclosed homes to sit vacant and attract blight and crime. Over the past year, Occupy Homes MN has reclaimed vacant bank-owned homes throughout north and south Minneapolis for over 20 people experiencing homelessness while pressuring the banks to donate these homes to nonprofits for long-term affordable housing.
“The city of Minneapolis has developed a new protocol about the use of police resources in foreclosed homes, requiring the bank that owns the property to verify their right to it,” said Occupy Homes MN organizer Cat Salonek. “Yesterday’s arrests were a blatant violation of that protocol, using the racist criminal justice system to further criminalize homelessness. We are glad the felony charges have been reduced and that our brothers are out of jail, but it’s outrageous that Antoine and Damion had to spend 30 hours in prison because the police failed to follow their own protocol and abused the racist criminal justice system. This is not what equity looks like.”
“There is no space for real progress on equity in Minneapolis until we lead with racial justice in housing. Justice is two men who have experienced the pain of homelessness and structural racism repairing a home for other families,” said Nicque Mabrey, board chair of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change. “We will continue to fight until these racist trumped-up charges against these two brave individuals are dropped, and we will redouble our efforts to fix up bank-owned vacant homes with families experiencing homelessness. We shall not be moved.”