Thursday, 3 November 2011

Street clashes, arrests as bank leader speaks

He was a perfect target for the Occupy Seattle movement.
The top 1 percent of the top 1 percent was in town: Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase.
And despite a cold, relentless November rain Wednesday night, several hundred people marched to the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Seattle, where Dimon was a keynote speaker at an awards ceremony for the University of Washington's Foster School of Business.
They stood outside and chanted slogans, while people inside sipped cocktails and looked down from a reception area with curiosity.
"Banks got bailed out; we got sold out," the protesters shouted, their words echoing off the downtown streets. "Shame on Chase," was another popular chant.
Sixth Avenue in front of the hotel was closed to traffic for less than an hour as protesters tried to block hotel entrances by locking arms. Police used pepper spray to clear a side entrance near the corner of Pike Street and Seventh Avenue so hotel patrons could enter or leave.
The protest began at 6 p.m. and lasted 3 ½ hours.
At least three arrests were reported by protesters outside the Sheraton, however Seattle police did not return calls seeking confirmation. Earlier in the day, six people were arrested during a protest at a Chase Bank on Capitol Hill.
"This whole bank thing is just crazy," said Mary McIntyre, co-owner of the Streamline Tavern on Lower Queen Anne. Her eyes were teary after she and some friends were pepper-sprayed.
The banks charge excessive fees for transactions, she said, and feel they can get away with anything.
"They're big businesses, and they act like authorities," said McIntyre, who had not been to any of the previous Occupy Seattle protests, which began more than a month ago.
McIntyre said she was in the process of taking her money out of another big bank and putting it into a credit union.
That sentiment was at the heart of Wednesday's demonstration.
Laura Davenport, of Burien, said Chase had "policies of looting and plundering our economy."
JPMorgan Chase took over failed Washington Mutual in 2008 and subsequently laid off thousands of WaMu employees. About 3,400 WaMu employees in the bank's downtown Seattle headquarters lost their jobs, and Chase vacated most of WaMu's downtown Seattle office space when it took over.
During the government's bailout of banks in 2008, Chase received $25 billion in loans, while thousands of homeowners — including a handful of active-duty members of the military — were foreclosed upon. A Chase executive later apologized for the military foreclosures, which were against the law.
Protesters pointed out that Dimon's salary and compensation last year was $20.8 million, while wages stagnated for most of the nation's workers and as unemployment soared.
"The turnout was fantastic," said Sage Wilson of Working Washington, which helped to organize the protest. "Seeing how many people had had enough."
Working Washington formed last spring to lobby for better jobs, better schools and better health care. The group pointed out that Chase collects tens of thousands of dollars in ATM fees from Washington welfare recipients.
David Ludden, a longtime Seattle resident, said Chase invested less in Washington businesses than Washington Mutual did. "I want to see JPMorgan Chase investing in Washington instead of being a parasite on it," Ludden said.
The number of protesters dwindled after about an hour because of rain, but more than 100 stayed on to stake out the hotel. They left at 9:30 p.m. after learning that Dimon had reportedly left about 9 p.m.
Earlier in the day, Seattle police arrested six people, five of whom had sprawled across the floor inside a Chase Bank on Capitol Hill.
Officers launched pepper spray, shoved protesters out of the way and yanked others from under a police van during a tense 30-minute confrontation. Police said at least 10 officers were physically assaulted during the arrests, and at least two of them had minor injuries.
The melee broke out as the arrested protesters were led, handcuffed, into a police van.
As the conflict between police and protesters moved up and down Broadway, about 100 protesters chanted about officers' actions and about the issues of concern to their movement — corporate greed, big banks and the growing disparity between the incomes of the nation's rich and its poor.
Phil Neel, an Occupy Seattle member, said the five protesters who occupied the bank in the afternoon did so intending to be arrested.
Beforehand, the group held a brief rally and marched from its encampment at Seattle Central Community College north toward the bank. Then, as a larger group surrounded the bank, the five protesters, who had entered the building earlier, got to the floor.
Neel, 23, said the goal was to shut down the bank for the afternoon, and that is what happened.
Neel, of Seattle, called banks "the churches of capitalism" and said "we're defiling that holy ground in a sense."
After the protesters inside the bank were arrested, youths surrounded the police van and started pounding on it. Others lay down in the street in front of it and behind it.
Police yanked protesters out of the way, a move that spurred other protesters to shove officers.
Soon, officers doused the crowd with pepper spray; one woman sat at Broadway Avenue and East Thomas Street while other people poured water in her eyes so she could see.
The fight between police and protesters continued south on Broadway, then back north. When protesters reached the corner of East Harrison Street they stood in a circle, some held hands and hugged. Then the group marched south, back to Seattle Central Community College with police following closely behind.
Protest organizers then told the group to head east, down Pine Street, toward Westlake Park where they were set to rally in advance of the evening protest at the Sheraton.

By Jeff Hodson and Jennifer Sullivan taken from

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