Hundreds of foreclosed homeowners and housing rights activists rallied outside the Justice Department on Monday, May 20, to demand that Attorney General Eric Holder prosecute the Wall Street bankers responsible for the financial collapse and foreclosure crisis.
The protest lasted overnight and into Tuesday morning. Overall, 27 peaceful protesters were violently arrested - 17 on Monday and ten on Tuesday morning - and at least two of them were Tasered by officers from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Video footage taken Tuesday morning shows three police officers subduing and then Tasering Carmen Pittman, an Atlanta homeowner who fought tirelessly to save her grandmother's house from foreclosure in 2011. When asked for their names, those who were arrested identified themselves with the names of Wall Street bankers who, they believe, should be arrested.
The action was organized by the Home Defenders League.
"Five years after Wall Street crashed the economy, not one banker has been prosecuted for the reckless and fraudulent practices that cost millions of Americans their jobs, threw our cities and schools into crisis, and left families and communities ravaged by a foreclosure crisis and epidemic of underwater mortgages," the organizers said in a statement. Their demands include "meaningful relief for homeowners and prosecutions for the criminals at the top."
People came from all around the country to participate.
Curt and Theresa Hamilton traveled from Port Reading, New Jersey, with their two children to join the march. They fell behind on their mortgage payments after Curt lost his construction job in the economic collapse. Curt spent two years unemployed and is currently underemployed, making 75 percent of his former income. Nevertheless, IndyMac forced the Hamiltons into a loan modification with an even higher monthly payment than their original mortgage. The Hamiltons were served with a foreclosure summons in February and are desperately trying to keep their home.
"If I did the same things the banks did, they would charge me for loan sharking or racketeering," Curt told Truthout.
Gisele Mata told Truthout that she has been fighting Bank of America for a year a half. After she and her husband lost their jobs in 2009, they fell behind on their mortgage payments. Today, both Mata and her husband are underemployed, but their daughter contributes financially, making them a three-income household capable of paying the mortgage. But Bank of America argues that the family doesn't make enough money to qualify for a loan modification.
"I'm having to make choices between my mortgage payment and food," Mata said. "We make too much for food stamps, but we don't make enough to stay in our home."
Stories like Mata's are the reason so many people were outraged by Eric Holder's comments in March, when he told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Wall Street banks should not be prosecuted because doing so "will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy."
Protesters scolded Holder's remarks as they marched from Freedom Plaza to the main entrance of the Justice Department, which was barricaded by DC police and officers from DHS. After a handful of impassioned speeches, several struggling homeowners jumped the barricade. Officers quickly retreated into the building and shut the door. Before long, the barricade was torn down and hundreds of protesters flooded the exterior around the main entrance where they banged on the door and shouted, "Eric Holder, come on out!"
(All photos by Craig O'Connor)