Occupy Homes attorney Rachel Lang says these serious charges are a result of the city trying to punish protesters’ willingness to fight the charges in court.
“It’s quite clear that these additional charges are politically motivated,” said Lang, a lawyer working on behalf of the Occupy Homes movement. “And attorneys from the legal team are fully committed to fighting all those charges, tooth and nail. Taking every case to trial if necessary.”
On May 30, a group of Occupy Homes activists barricaded themselves around the home of David and Alejandra Cruz — a brother and sister whose family was evicted after their home was foreclosed on by PNC Bank.
Fourteen protesters were charged with trespassing. But after refusing a plea deal offered by the City Attorney’s office, these same individuals now face third-degree rioting — a gross misdemeanor, along with four other misdemeanors — which carry a total sentence of up to two years in prison and a $7,000 fine.
Michael Friedman, executive director of the Legal Rights Center, says these charges are without merit.
“The general public certainly knows what a riot is and what it isn’t; a law school education is not required,” proclaimed Friedman.
The Minneapolis City Attorney’s office responded to requests for an interview with an email stating the following:
“Prosecutors will consider the circumstances of each case and charge them accordingly, based on all the available evidence. Charges arising out of incidents on various dates at the Cruz house have included misdemeanor charges, such as for trespass. Some individuals who engaged in actions related to unlawful entry into the home have been charged with a gross misdemeanor offense of riot in the 3rd degree.
“The City Attorney’s Office has treated these matters in the same way it would any case based on the facts presented. No one has been singled out based on any alleged protest activity. The City values the lawful exercise of first amendment rights and, the City Attorney’s Office shares that commitment. The City has and continues to be proactive in working to prevent home foreclosures. The prosecutions are not about taking the side of the banks against people losing their homes.”
Mayor R.T. Rybak told The Uptake earlier this summer that it is his duty to respond to calls made by neighbors when a disturbance takes place on Minneapolis city streets. Listen to the full interview with the Mayor here.
Among those arrested was internationally renowned hip hop artist Brother Ali. He was arrested in a separate incident and does not face rioting charges. The Uptake story on Brother Ali can be found here.
“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,” Ali said during the rally.
Protesters also want disciplinary action for Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan, whom they allege stepped on protesters deliberately during the arrest on May 30.
Chief Dolan’s office offered “no comment” when contacted by The Uptake.
Occupy Homes demands that all charges be dropped in this matter.