Occupy D.C. activists file lawsuit against Bank of America, District government
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November, 14, 2012 -- Eleven activists affiliated with Occupy DC have filed a lawsuit against Bank of America, property management firm The John Akridge Co., District of Columbia officials, members of the Metropolitan Police Department, and others.
The lawsuit arises out of a series of arrests that took place over the course of four days in April 2012 in front of Bank of America’s Vermont Ave. office. The plaintiffs have information indicating that officials from Bank of America, the Metropolitan Police Department, and The John Akridge Co. held a meeting in which they conspired to have the protesters arrested for engaging in a lawful demonstration that Occupy D.C. members had called a “sleepful protest.”
The result was a dozen unlawful arrests over several mornings, in which the protesters were charged with Blocking Passage for sitting on the sidewalk, not physically impeding foot traffic in any way. During the April 11th arrests, an MPD officer was caught on camera remarking about what the protesters were doing, “We know it’s not illegal.” All charges were later dismissed.
The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages and are asking a federal judge to stop the Metropolitan Police Department and the D.C. Attorney General from using the Blocking Passage law to stifle protesters’ rights to free speech and assembly. The plaintiffs’ attorney, Jeffrey Light, explained that “law enforcement officers have taken a statute designed to prevent complete blockage of a sidewalk and used it selectively against individuals who are simply standing or sitting on a sidewalk, even where nobody’s passage is being blocked.” The lawsuit cites examples in which the law was used by police to target homeless individuals and a street musician, none of whom were actually blocking pedestrians.
The April 11-13, 2012 protests were designed to call attention to the fraudulent and predatory practices of large financial institutions such as Bank of America. These institutions collectively received hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout money, then turned around and foreclosed on an estimated 3.7 million American families since 2008, while continuing to pay extravagant bonuses to executives running companies that would have gone bankrupt if not for taxpayer money. During the “sleepful protest,” some protesters wore pajamas, while others sat near sleeping bags, dramatizing the plight of those whose homes were foreclosed on by Bank of America and who now have nowhere to sleep.