Anti-War Committee says no to political prosecution of anti-foreclosure protesters

Below is a letter sent by AWC members, Misty Rowan and Katrina Plotz, to Minneapolis City Council members. Misty and Katrina were among the first people arrested with Occupy, in a protest against foreclosures. They are going to trial at the end of this month, but are working to build the political pressure to drop the charges against them. We need your support and solidarity call off these political prosecutions! – Anti-War Committee

We are contacting you to ask for your support in defending ourselves against charges we are facing at the hands of the City Attorney’s office.  We are social justice activists who’ve participated in demonstrations against the foreclosure crisis as part of Occupy Minneapolis.  We and other Minneapolis residents are now facing an aggressive prosecution that attempts to single out and criminalize us based on our political associations and past political activities.

Here’s some background on our case.  On October 20, 2011, hundreds of people participated in a demonstration in front of U.S. Bank in downtown Minneapolis to draw attention to the fact that over 25,000 Minnesotans lost their homes to foreclosure in 2010 alone.  Meanwhile, U.S. Bank CEO Richard Davis saw his salary more than double this year to 18.8 million, and U.S. Bancorp reported record profits of $1.3 billion in the 3rd quarter of 2011.  We don’t believe that banks should refuse to negotiate with homeowners and force them into foreclosure while making record profits, and chose to express this sentiment by participating in a rally and demonstration.  Some protesters had plans to enter the U.S. Bank building to express their concerns, but when it became clear that protesters would not be allowed inside, a crowd of over 100 people moved the demonstration into the intersection of 2nd Ave and 6th St.  Police blocked traffic and re-routed it, which allowed the demonstration to continue.

Eventually, 7 people were arrested in the intersection and charged with “interfering with pedestrian and vehicular traffic,” a violation of Minneapolis City Ordinance 385.65.  However, the ordinance specifically states that “acts authorized as an exercise of one’s constitutional rights of freedom of speech and assembly shall not constitute interference with pedestrian or vehicular traffic.”  Other language in the ordinance itself is problematic because it states that “no person, in any public or private place, shall use offensive, obscene or abusive language…or engage in conduct which reasonably tends to arouse alarm or anger in others.”  This wording is vague and appears to prohibit people from engaging in speech and activity that is protected by the First Amendment.

At our first court appearance, the prosecutor, Patrick Marzitelli, offered 4 of the 7 defendants the opportunity to plead guilty to a petty misdemeanor, which is a non-criminal violation (basically the equivalent of a traffic ticket.).  But he insisted on charging 3 of us with a criminal misdemeanor.  The 3 of us are being singled out and treated more harshly because we’ve been politically active in the past.  The 7 defendants all engaged in the same action on the same day.  Therefore the decision to treat some of us differently based on our past political activities is clearly an attempt to silence, intimidate, and deter us and our fellow citizens from engaging in political dissent and exercising our First Amendment rights.  At subsequent court appearances, the prosecutor has refused to offer everyone the same deal.  We have declined to accept these terms, and as of today we are scheduled to go to trial on July 30.  Our attorneys have filed a motion to dismiss the charges on the grounds that the city ordinance we are accused of violating is unconstitutional.  We are still waiting for a judge’s decision on the matter.

Mr. Marzitelli informed us that he would be open to renegotiating our plea deal, but that his supervisor, Assistant City Attorney Mary Ellen Heng, will not give him permission to do so.  The City Attorney’s office is clearly engaging in political repression against us and 14 other activists who were recently charged with gross misdemeanor riot (and 4 other charges) for peacefully sitting with linked arms around the “Cruz House,” a family home in South Minneapolis that’s currently facing foreclosure.

We respectfully request that you call Ms. Heng at 612-673-2270 as well as City Attorney Susan Segal at 612-673-2010 to ask why participants in Occupy-related protests are facing unusually harsh charges and why the prosecution won’t take reasonable steps to resolve our case, as well as the case of the Cruz 14.

If you have any questions, please contact Katrina Plotz at […].  We would also appreciate the opportunity to speak with you about this in person and will be contacting your office to request a meeting in the near future.
Katrina Plotz
Misty Rowan