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February, 2013 | Occupied Stories

Archive | February, 2013

The Theft of Everyone’s Home: A Personal Account of the Fall of #FuerzaHernandez

Los Angeles, California–At 4:30 am on December 27, 2012, over 200 members of “Law Enforcement”, including some 50 LA county sheriffs deputies, and more than 150 LAPD officers descended on 14620 Leadwell St. in Van Nuys. They brought with them the implied violence of firearms, armored vehicles, tear gas and full riot gear, all to throw one family out into the street and end the longest post-eviction foreclosure defense in California history.

That morning, on Sherman Way and Van Nuys Blvd., one block away from the Hernandez home, a homeless woman was set on fire at the bus bench that had been her spot for years. Even though 200 sworn officers were just down the block, a civilian had to chase down the attacker, and hold him for 30 minutes till the police arrived because the police were too busy with their eviction plan to make more people homeless.

Even though we had known this moment was coming for the last 124 days, as the 30 of us were led into the chill of the early morning air at gunpoint past the seemingly endless lines of nervous cops equipped with shotguns and bulletproof vests, I could not help but be surprised at the extreme response to what had been an entirely peaceful protest. I shouldn’t have been. Having been involved in many police incited confrontations on the streets of downtown LA, I should have been well aware that the first response of the reactionary monied class to any attempt by the people to enforce their basic human rights is to criminalize us, using the very agencies we pay for to deny us our rights. But still, the response was, in a word, overkill.

Despite the direct and obvious evidence of fraud on the part of Countrywide and BOA presented by the Hernandez family, both directly to the police and in court, our elected officials spent nearly half a million dollars in public money to harass, patrol, surveill and criminalize an innocent family, simply to evict them from a house with a market value of barely $260,000. I remember thinking, how, in a country where vacant homes outnumber homeless people 5 to 1, in a city where hundreds of thousands of people sleep on the streets every night, is this ridiculous waste of public funds even slightly justifiable?

The pigs finally shuffled us out from behind the police lines and into the parking lot of the Lucky’s supermarket, which had recently closed down because of all the displacement in the area. Guadalupe Hernandez, who we had come to call Mama Lupe, stood on the sidewalk across Wynedote St. wrapped in a purple blanket, looking distraught, and shivering in the cold. Ulisses stood next to his mother, eyes fixed on the ground, the heat of his anger palpable in the early morning air, while Antonio and a few supporters mocked the police’s ridiculous show of force on live stream. But it was the look on Javier Hernandez’s face, that mixture of sorrow, guilt, and shock, as he took in the scene of his mother, brothers, and the rest of his newly adopted family, huddled with whatever meager possessions they had managed to save, that still haunts me to this day.

A gray Mustang followed by two U-Haul trucks pulled onto Wynedote and was stopped at the police line, until the driver announced that he was from the bank, and the jeering from our people began, at which point the police surrounded the car as if President Obama himself was inside. This served only to reinvigorate our makeshift clan of family members, houseless activists, and organizers, and shake us out of our dejection.

The rest of the morning was a blur of activity as our team sprang into action, testing the police lines, herding the media, and destroying the police’s credibility in front of the neighbors, our people were in rare form, and I was never more proud of them than in those immediate post eviction hours.

A little past 10am, after the U-haul trucks pulled away illegally carrying out the Hernandez families memories and possessions from their home of 7 years the sheriffs returned to their armored vehicles, patting themselves on the back for following orders, and we hoped they might hate themselves a little. The LAPD slinked wearily back to their patrol cars after a rough morning of oppressing the people behind them, and the neighbors finally poked their heads out of the houses only to be told to “get the fuck inside” by the pigs. Antonio and Javi led us back down Leadwell st, to the place that had, until that morning, been everyone’s home.

I walked a few steps behind Mama Lupe. The wooden barricade painted with the large letters “Government of for and by the people” had been replaced by a 12 foot chain link fence- how fitting. The banners reading “housing is a human right” and “Bank stolen property” were gone, replaced by a 2×2 foot sign, “For Sale, Ben Soifer Realty”. Mama Lupe sighed deeply to herself “Mi casa”, then looked around at her children, the ones she had given birth to, and those of us she had taken in over the last 4 months, we were dejected, depressed, powerless. Swallowing her own pain, Lupe did what needed to be done, what only a mother could do. She grabbed a lone metal lawn chair, left behind on the curb by the real estate company that had just stolen all of her earthly possessions, pulled it up in front of the fence, sat down, threw her fist high in the air, and proclaimed “La Fuerza Sigue!”, the strength continues.

Those words, spoken in the kind and powerful tones of her voice sparked something in those of us who couldn’t speak, nor think, nor do anything in that moment but silently stare at the ground and one another with confusion and sadness. It was as if the sun finally burst through the clouds after a rainstorm. A reminder of why we had come to Leadwell st in the first place, to empower the people. She continued, translating through Javier, “ Thank you all for all of your hard work. I love you all. Our fight isn’t over, it has just begun. Anyone else that needs help, we will be there to fight with them.” It was at this moment that the tears I had been repressing all morning finally pushed their way past my anger.

See, that’s what made #FuerzaHernandez, and the Hernandez family, so special. Not only was the one story house with the 9 foot painted barricade around it there to protect the Hernandez families human right to housing, and many houseless organizers and activists, it had become the unofficial heart of the local community. A place where children’s parties and know your rights classes were held, where tenants could go to learn how to fight their evictions, or neighbors could stop to have a friendly conversation. For 4 months, Van Nuys finally had a real community center. The Hernandez resistance served to inspire housing victims across the country, and presented a strong example of people coming together to fight an unjust system to the world. The Lucero family, of east LA, had also built a barricade to protect against their eviction, and as of this writing they are still standing strong 91 days after their November 4, 2012 eviction date. La fuerza sigue indeed.

But, not a day goes by that I don’t think of the look on Javi’s face on that cold December morning, looking at all of us with such sadness and guilt, as if he had failed us, when, the way I see it, it was the other way around. If the #FuerzaHernandez action was any kind of victory, it was a Pyrrhic one. When Lupe left that morning, her and her family were forced to cram 12 people into a small apartment down the street from their stolen home. When they tried to pick up their belongings, a representative from Soifer’s office tried to get Javi to sign off on the contents of the storage space without being able to examine them, everything the family owned still being held ransom.

A month and a half later, Lupe still can’t find work, and may be forced to move back to Mexico with Adrian, her youngest son. The breakup of the family we fought so hard to prevent, may well still happen anyway, while Ben Soifer, the board of BOA, and all the other money grubbing scumbags involved in the their fraudulent eviction are safe in their homes with their families. Homes purchased by perpetrating the suffering of others while 150 million of us struggle to breathe under the crushing weight of poverty, and the police spread terror in the name of those who exploit and oppress us.

The Hernandez family will survive, and thrive, have no doubt. Their family and community solidarity has never been stronger. Their courage and self determination in the face of a corrupt vampiristic system serves as an inspiration to us all. BOA had to send it’s minions to destroy #FuerzaHernandez, it’s very existence exposed the illegitimacy of the US financial system, simply by telling millions of other people in the same situation that they were not alone, and they could fight back. Now imagine if everyone facing forced eviction did the same. What would happen? We would win.

So what is holding us back? Fear? Everything that has happened to the Hernandez family post-eviction, would have happened whether they had resisted or not. A lack of leadership? It is time to stop waiting on someone to lead us out of the darkness, and turn on the lights ourselves. You are the next great leader in your community. You are the next Malcolm X, the next Ella Baker, the next Fred Hampton, the next Guadalupe Hernandez. If you or your neighbor are facing eviction, do not panic, do not move, organize. The power is yours sisters and brothers, all you have to do is seize it.

Take back your land! Take back your homes! 

Amandala Ngawethu! Power to the Poor People! And peace to you all, if you are willing to fight for it.

-Adam Rice-

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Arrested While Driving the Illuminator Van

This post originally appeared at occupywallstreet.net

Recently I was arrested in Brooklyn while driving a van outfitted with a projector. Long story short, it was pretty horrible; friends and fellow activists have encouraged me to set down precisely what happened and put it in the public record.

If you don’t know, there is a van with a heavy duty projector that comes out of the roof like a turret. It was created by an OWS offshoot with funding from Ben Cohen, and was named The Illuminator. Some months ago, ownership and control was passed on to a campaign called the Stamp Stampede, created by Ben Cohen, and was referred to as the Project-O-Van.

A month ago, Animal New York, a website that covers culture and politics, arranged to carry out a joint action withthe Stampede campaign, using our van.. Together, we visited a number of locations throughout the city to project images highlighting the problem of money in politics corrupting our democracy. We visited the offices of Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, Trump Tower, some walls in Soho and the LES, and…. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s home on 79th Street.

It was exciting to get a picture of a ballot box being stuffed with money projected onto Bloomberg’s 3rd floor. As the residence is protected by police, our team was approached by cops who chatted with Animal New York folks and filmed our van. I stuck around for about one minute – just long enough to take a few photos.

The next evening I got called at 11pm by police from the NYPD’s Intelligence Division. They wanted my address so they could visit me at home and ask a few questions. It turned out they were researching the ownership of the vehicle and trying to track me down for many hours. An entire team was active on this ‘case’ which included sending two officers to Ithaca (4 hours away) to track down whoever lived at the address on our registration form. (This was the head of a nonprofit used briefly as a fiscal sponsor of the nonprofit that actually owned the vehicle.)

My concern was having some cop cars with lights flashing show up at my apartment building and then getting arrested in full view of the neighbors. So I persuaded them to meet me at the nearby police precinct (the 90th). I spent an hour answering questions about the van, it’s history, ownership, how it operates, and the absence of any ongoing threat to Mayor Bloomberg. They explained that the order to take such drastic measures (midnight interrogations & a trip to Ithaca) came from very high up, and they simply had to make sure that any and all questions could be answered. Their immediate superior in this was Mohammad Newaz of the Intelligence Division– the same unit that engages in counter-terrorism.

Fast forward to last Friday. Our van had spent 10 days at a garage for repairs. I was driving in a light rain for two blocks, when an unmarked SUV pulled me over. A plainclothes officer told me I was driving with my lights off in the rain – very unsafe. A few minutes later I was arrested for driving with a suspended driver’s license.

The arresting officer? Mohammad Newaz of the Intelligence Division. Did I mention there were three unmarked police vehicles that were part of this operation?

[Side note: perhaps a year ago, I was given a summons for riding my bicycle on a sidewalk in Bushwick. Stupidly, I neglected to take care of the matter. This was the reason why my license had been suspended, and I wasn’t aware that this had happened.]

There are many things that could happen at this point. For example, they could have allowed me to leave the vehicle where it was (I pulled over into a legal parking spot) and given me a ‘desk appearance ticket.’ Instead, they impounded the van ‘for evidence’ and sent me to Central Booking. I ended up spending 36 hours in jail. When I appeared before the judge for arraignment, attorney Yetta Kurland helped me to plead guilty to a violation, amounting to a $75 fine.

Many of my friends have been arrested before, usually with other protestors engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience, or for things like stepping off the sidewalk during a demonstration. I’ve been arrested before, mostly in Israel, where I once spent two months in prison for refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories. If you haven’t been arrested, please know this: it can be traumatic. The facilities in Brooklyn are filthy beyond belief, the food is disgusting, some of those detained are pretty ripe, and folks have to arrange themselves on the floor with no bedding or bunks. On the other hand, most of the cops behaved decently towards the detainees. (Yes, that surprised me.)

Thinking about what happened to me, the first thought that keeps rattling around in my head is how stupid I was to have allowed my license to become suspended. And then there are some other questions:

  • Was I or the van being tracked closely by police from the Intelligence Division because of our one minute projection on Mayor Bloomberg’s home?
  • If so, were they tracking it for a whole month, or did they wait until my license was suspended (this happened in that last few weeks!) so they could lie in wait for me?
  • Is there any justification for the massive expenditure of resources on ‘The Case of the Project-O-Van’?
  • Was I and/or the vehicle targeted because of the relationship to Occupy Wall Street?
  • Why did the police choose to arrest me and send me to booking, given my profile? (Employed, stable residence, no prior arrests in NYC, living with my family, etc.) Was that decision influenced by my political activism?
  • Not sure if this is the end of the story. Some say, there are grounds for – at minimum – demanding some answers from the NYPD and Mayor Bloomberg. What do others think?

PS: I mentioned Yetta Kurland briefly. Knowing that she was out there working on my behalf was part of what kept me sane in jail. She is a fighter, a friend, and a leader. And she refused to take a dime for her services. God bless her.

PPS: At the start of the video embedded above, you can hear me say “this is of dubious legality, but fuck it!” Folks should know that was part of a conversation about parking, not about the operation of the Project-O-Van.

-Clencher-

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Occupy Boston Protesters: Guilty and Sentenced Without Trial

This story originally appeared at Daily Kos.

As one of those who was awaiting trial, I find the whole affair, from the illegal arrests, to the injurious treatment of myself and others, to the harassment of making us show up at multiple hearings, with many delays, to the propagandist stenography of the Boston Globe, to be a heinous abuse of justice.

Please keep reading to learn of the final bit of foul play by our government. They saw the writing on the wall and, once again, they abused their position of power and cheated.

Personal request: Please spread the word about how the Boston Globe is printing lies in service to the government.

I wanted my day in court. It was clear, they were going to delay and delay. Over one year later, I still did not have a trial date. I was also never told with whom I would be a co-defendant. (we wanted one trial and the judge insisted we be broken into groups of 5. He then only named one group and the rest of us were left in limbo) All of this was designed to make it impossible for us to prepare. Trying to crush our resolve and our souls slowly.

When we pushed back and filed a motion for charges to be dismissed, the judge said he would rule this coming Monday. Preempting what the judge might say in court, the City surreptitiously dropped the charges today. During the beginning of a blizzard. On a Friday afternoon. Without letting any of the defendants know. We didn’t get the courtesy a single communication to us. We all learned by reading it in the Boston Globe. And that is where we read outright lies:

but at least five defendants will contest the dismissal in hopes of fighting the accusations on their merits.

um, we filed the motion to have the charges dismissed. the hearing for that motion was this past Monday. that’s on the public record. high quality stenography, I mean journalism, there.

“Our clients feel that they deserve a day in court to contest their arrests on constitutional grounds,” said Jeff Feuer, of the National Lawyers Guild, which is defending the demonstrators. “They were using a public park.”

that’s my lawyer. I wonder when they got that quote. I’m pretty sure that’s from an earlier time when we were being asked about why we didn’t accept a plea deal. Since we’ve had no contact from anyone about this latest move of dropping the charges, I doubt this is a contemporary quote.

A spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said prosecutors decided to resolve the cases because the defendants had abided by certain restrictions imposed by the court for more than a year. Other protesters charged with trespassing and unlawful assembly had agreed to similar conditions in resolving their cases.

What restrictions? This is just outright fiction. I pleaded not guilty. I was not under any restrictions, as I had not been found guilty of any crime and I would not consent to be punished as though I had. I dare the Boston Globe to tell me exactly what restrictions I have supposed adhered to and to prove that I consented to and complied with them.

“There’s now parity with prior cases arising from the protests,” Jake Wark said. “They’ve served essentially the same sentences.”

This is their way of saving face. Trying to claim that we somehow accepted guilt by serving a pre-sentence. Who needs a trial when you can just get people to agree to “restrictions” and then say that they’ve “resolved” their case by “essentially” serving a sentence?I will not stand idly by and be portrayed in the public as though I have served a sentence for a crime I did not commit. Nor will I allow our justice system to proclaim that they can determine, without a trial or a sentencing process, that someone has paid enough of a penalty that they can consider the case resolved. It’s bullshit. And makes me wonder what they thought the judge was going to say, on the record, on Monday.

Here is the press release about this from the National Lawyers Guild, who are representing us.

NATIONAL LAWYERS GUILD, Massachusetts Chapter, Inc.
14 Beacon St., Suite 407, Boston, MA 02108
PRESS RELEASE
__________________________
Contact:
Urszula Masny-Latos
Tammi Arford (defendant):  617-686-8892 National Lawyers Guild, Mass. Chapter
Andrea Hill (defendant):      574-206-5632        617-227-7335
__________________________
CRIMINAL CHARGES AGAINST OCCUPY BOSTON DEFENDANTS DROPPED
Boston, February 8, 2013.   Today, without any notice to defense counsel or the defendants, Suffolk County prosecutors went into court and in an unscheduled, unilateral action dismissed the criminal cases that had been brought against five Occupy Boston activists which were scheduled to begin trial on Monday, February 11.  The prosecutors also dismissed all of the criminal charges remaining against the other Occupy Boston activists who were still awaiting trial as a result of the mass police arrests in October and December, 2011.We believe that the DA’s decision amounts to an acknowledgment of the unconstitutionality of the arrests and criminal charges that had been brought against hundreds of Occupy Boston participants, and shows that the state has finally
admitted that the demonstrations by Occupy activists were legal and constitutionally protected.

Fully ready to contest the charges at trial, the defendants and their representatives from theNational Lawyers Guild (NLG) had subpoenaed Mayor Menino, Police Commissioner Ed Davis, and Nancy Brennan (former head of the Greenway Conservancy) to explain why the City of Boston and its police department unconstitutionally applied the Massachusetts trespass and unlawful assembly laws to impinge upon Occupy Boston participants’ rights to assemble, to express their protected speech, and to petition the government.  In addition, they had also subpoenaed Joshua Bekenstein and Mitt Romney (of Bain Capital), and Robert Gallery (CEO of Bank of America) to address their role in constructing and perpetuating excessive corporate power and an economic system that favors the wealthiest 1% of the population at the expense of the remaining 99%– an undemocratic system in which the voices of the people are ignored.  The police action in arresting occupiers demonstrated that voices of conscience that speak out against
social and economic inequality are not only ignored, they are unlawfully silenced by the state’s use of violence, fear, threat, and repression.

This decision by prosecutors comes after 14 months of delay, during which defendants were repeatedly required to show up for court dates, only to have their day in court and their right to a jury trial delayed time after time.   Defendants and their NLG lawyers spent months working to prepare a case that would potentially embarrass the City and set valuable precedent that would reaffirm the constitutional rights of free speech and assembly.

In making this decision, Suffolk County prosecutors have not only prevented the defendants from having their day in court, they have employed yet another way to trample upon those who voice dissent and discouraged them from challenging injustice and inequality in this country.  In fact, a spokesperson from the District
Attorney’s office today admitted that these defendants, who never had the chance to present their case to a judge or jury, “served a sentence” imposed unilaterally by the actions of the District Attorney without ever having been found guilty of any criminal offense.

###  END ###

Don’t be complicit in the repression of voices of dissent. Please take in the way this was handled: peaceful protesters arrested by using a battalion of militarily-armed riot police, then dragged through repeated courtroom delays, then charges dropped with a statement that they had “essentially” served a sentence. See how that works? Guilt determined and sentence handed down without the bother of a pesky trial.Raise your voices, people. When these things happen, we need to yell louder that we will maintain our rights.

UnaSpenser

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