You are browsing the archive for property.

Occupy’s Political Prisoners

12:18 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Among the many signs of the profound threat that the Occupy movement poses to the status quo has been the coordinated effort by local and state police together with the Department of Homeland Security to suppress the rights of protesters. The United Nations recently criticized the United States for its violent police attacks on the movement.

In the month since the pre-NATO arrests, a new tool in the arsenal is becoming clear: turning dedicated activists into political prisoners.

Occupy Wall Street, Trinity Wall Street, and the December 17 Trial

Sign: Mark Adams is Bearded, Selfless, Defends the Poor, Persecuted. Remind you of Anyone?

Photo: @SubVerzo via Twitter, used with permission.

On December 17, Occupy Wall Street attempted a reoccuptation — not of Liberty Square, but of a new space. Climbing a fence on livestream, occupiers poured into a fenced-in space owned by Trinity Wall Street, a church-run business that is historically one of New York City’s oldest landlords. The trial of 8 of these occupiers, including a retired bishop and active clergy members, concluded on June 18. Seven of the defendants, including the clergy, were convicted of trespassing and sentenced to four days of community service. But one man, Mark Adams, was singled out for especially harsh treatment.

The Village Voice quotes Judge Sciarrino’s justification for his harshness:

He issued his his ruling immediately after closing arguments, finding all eight defendants guilty of trespassing and further finding one of them, Mark Adams, guilty of attempted criminal mischief and attempted criminal possession of burglar’s tools. Adams was seen on surveillance video using what appeared to be bolt cutters to open the fence.

“This was the use of siege equipment to storm a castle,” Sciarrino said in his ruling, adding that political demonstrations are no excuse for violating property rights. “This nation is founded on the right of private property, and that right is no less important than the first amendment.”

Though the district attorney asked for a mere 30 days, the judge instead chose to charge Adams with 45 days in New York’s dangerous Rikers’ Island! Although activists who practice civil disobedience must expect to face legal consequences from time to time, occupiers are surprised by the harsh treatment from Trinity Wall Street, a business theoretically built on Christian values. The Episcopal News Service quotes Bishop George Packard:

In a June telephone interview, Packard had expressed surprise at the trespassing charges and the manner of his arrest. When he entered the property Dec. 17, he said, “I felt that we were entering into a protected area and that it was closed for the season. I had visited hunger strikers on the perimeter of that space … three or four times. …”

“Trespass is a word that I’m not used to hearing as it’s related to church property,” Packard said. “I hear expressions like ‘refuge’ and ‘sanctuary,’ and even … in the Trinity newsletter they talk about ‘radical hospitality.’”

The Continuing Plight of the NATO 5

Read the rest of this entry →

Wood Ridge: After the Balcony Collapse

1:29 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

About a month ago, a balcony collapsed at Wood Ridge apartment complex in south Austin, Texas.

IBEW's Mike King shows a dangerously installed electrical conduit at Wood Ridge Apartments.

IBEW's Mike King standing beside a faulty electrical conduit at Wood Ridge (Photo: Kit O'Connell).

Though there were no injuries, affected residents were given as little as 20 minutes to collect everything they could carry and evacuate the complex; in all, about 150 residents were evacuated and spent weeks away from their possessions and their homes. Apartment owners at the shady management firm, Houston’s Asset Plus, showed up with offers to pay residents $500 if they agreed not to sue; those who accepted later found themselves ineligible to receive social services from some city groups.

Occupy Austin has been involved since we first got word of the collapse. We’ve reached out to several residents, making ourselves available to help them organize a response and get the help they need. The group was present at a recent, contentious code hearing where Asset Plus was given 75 days to make repairs to ten of the 15 buildings.

This wasn’t enough for us — like many working class apartment buildings in Austin, it was a mess of code violation and poorly repaired infrastructure, far beyond the state of a few balconies. Investigations have shown that serious code issues were raised about Wood Ridge over a decade ago, with little or nothing done in response. Occupiers brought our concerns, and a few Wood Ridge residents, to meetings with two different Austin City Council representatives earlier this week.

This afternoon I got a call — code compliance were knocking on doors and inspecting apartments all over Wood Ridge. We drove down to make sure they had the residents best interest at heart. On arrival we could see the apartments crawling with code inspectors, who have an intimidating police-like uniform much like a state trooper. Code Inspector trucks were parked as far as we could see down the street, we counted 24 in all plus a gigantic city of Austin command center trailer, emblazoned with police, fire department, and Department of Homeland Security logos.

A friendly resident, Doug Robb, invited us in so that we would not be trespassing. The inspectors were in his apartment and seemed sympathetic. During our discussion they said the city had fought a program which would have required more stringent, annual inspections of city rental properties. Doug told us about a huge hole in the adjoining apartment which had until recently only been stapled over the carpet and showed us broken bolts on the stairs outside of his apartment.

Michael King, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and a registered electrician in Texas, took a walk through the complex with us and within 10 minutes pointed out multiple, potentially life-threatening situations in the wiring. Issues like open power boxes and exposed electrical wiring in drainways and walkways that could set fires or “blow a child’s arm off” to use Mike’s colorful language. Rain drainage grates were broken — some with dangerous looking holes, others warped so badly that a resident told us ‘the kids bounce on it like a trampoline.’

Code inspectors assured us that they were inspecting every building’s interior and exterior. The property owners were giving them access to vacant apartments, but they needed residents permission to enter — which made the timing of the mid-afternoon visit unfortunate.

It’s good to see that the city is beginning to take the many problems at Wood Ridge seriously, but the issue is clearly systemic. Occupy Austin has just begun investigating other complexes and has already found a half dozen Wood Ridge’s in waiting. As Doug points out in the video, when you sign a lease on a rental property, you expect to pay for a safe, reliable home. Occupiers plan to continue working with the city’s residents, and continue pressuring our city council, until this ideal comes closer to reality.