Chants of “drop the charges” echoed through City Hall this afternoon as 60 community supporters rallied to demand City Attorney Susan Segal drop all charges against anti-foreclosure protesters from the Occupy movement. Afterwards supporters packed the courtroom and overflowed into the hall as 11 defendants refused to plead guilty to their charges at the pretrial hearing.
On May 30, fifteen community supporters were peacefully arrested at the foreclosed Cruz family home as many linked arms and sat on the front stoop. Though they were originally charged with trespassing, the city decided to escalate the charges. 14 of the protesters arrested that day, as well as another arrested during a 4:00am raid on the Cruz family’s home, now face charges of third degree riot, a gross misdemeanor, along with four other misdemeanors--which carry a total sentence of up to 2 years in prison and a $7,000 fine.
“The Minneapolis City Attorney’s decision to tack on charges of Third Degree Rioting--merely for being present at the Cruz home--is an outrageous abuse of the charging function,” said Michael Friedman, Executive Director of the Legal Rights Center. “The general public certainly knows what a riot is and what it isn’t; a law school education is not required.”
“The City Attorney and Mayor RT Rybak are using the coercion of the criminal justice system for political purposes, while failing to help families whose homes are being taken by unscrupulous banks,” said Rachel E.B. Lang, a local attorney working with the Occupy Homes movement. “The legal defense team will fight these absurd charges tooth and nail."
"We've lost our way as a society when wealthy banks face little or no consequences for robbing us of our family homes but everyday people who peacefully stand up to them face outrageous and dishonest charges,” said internationally renowned hip hop artist Brother Ali. “Our souls won't allow us to settle for anything short of justice for hard working families and the people who stand with them.”
Four activists arrested at another demonstration last October while sitting in tents that read “Stop Foreclosure Now” in the street outside US Bank Plaza learned this week that the City Attorney’s office was also bringing escalated charges against them. Three new misdemeanors were added just two weeks before trial, which is set to begin next Monday, July 30.
“We’re getting the message: the city of Minneapolis would rather put time and resources towards prosecuting those fighting foreclosure than address the crisis or hold accountable the financial institutions responsible,” said Susan Kikuchi, an organizer with Occupy Homes MN.
Protesters demanded that all charges be dropped; that all police who used violence in the course of these evictions, including Chief Tim Dolan, who was photographed stepping on peaceful protesters, be formally disciplined; and that no more public resources be used to carry out evictions.
Occupy Homes MN’s defense of the Cruz home made headlines around the country this spring after protesters repeatedly fended off sheriffs and police who came to evict the home; the Cruz family traveled to PNC Bank headquarters in Pittsburgh to renegotiate their loan in person; the city of Minneapolis spent over $42,000 on police forces at the Cruz home; and 37 people were arrested in acts of civil disobedience, including hip-hop artist Brother Ali.