I’ve never been much of a church-goer myself, but today’s protest in support of Jack Boyle, an occupier currently on hunger and medication strike in protest against a possible 3-6 months jail sentence for trying to pitch a tent on an empty plot of land owned by Trinity Church did bring me out bright and early on Trinity Sunday. Many were arrested that day in December in an intense standoff with NYPD, amongst them a retired Bishop and other clerics, along with several OWS medics and almost 50 occupiers. My pictures from that day can be found here.
Since then, many of the arrestees were offered so called ACD summonses, where they can get the charges dropped if they stay out of trouble, i.e. don’t get arrested, for a six months period. For many occupiers that requires them to lay low from the movement, a tactic many believe is used to discourage participation in occupy by NYPD and the local judiciary. However, I have met Jack and also Mark, one of the OWS medics arrested that day on a number of occasions. Both are very dedicated members of the movement and decided to take a stand against both the eviction of OWS from a permanent encampment and also against the District Attorney’s office and Trinity Church, who keep pressing charges. On many other large actions, arrest charges get dropped very quickly, but not for December 17th. Mark also believes that he needs to take a stand for all medics. He was arrested as he came to the aid of an arrested protester who needed assistance and feels that medics should not have to fear arrest for providing medical assistance during protests.
As I arrived I found members from the Interfaith Group and other Occupiers picketing St. Paul’s Chapel’s front entrance facing Wall Street with signs referencing the Bible, reminding Trinity Church of their moral obligations and challenging their heavy handed tactics by the real estate group. It should be noted, that Trinity Church is one of largest real estate owners in New York City. It formed as a small Episcopalian Church in the 17th century and was bequeathed vast areas of land by Queen Elizabeth I in 1705. Much of that land is still in the Church’s possession, making it one of the richest congregations in the world.
The protest was high spirited (in more ways than one 🙂 ) and peaceful, as occupiers handed out flyers to church goers and passing tourists, maintained a picket-line singing slightly altered versions of church songs demanding the dropping of the charges, and talked to anyone who wanted to know more about the protest . Nobody has prevented from entering or leaving the church, but the group clearly wanted to make them think about their church elders and what they were doing to occupiers.
Press came out, too. Both the New York Times and the Village Voice sent a reporter. After all, word of Jack’s hunger strike was getting around, and both journalists have been covering the movement long enough to know him and the circumstances of events on December 17th. Also, should Jack or Mark be convicted this would be the first actual conviction of an occupier in New York courts since the movement began. One of the lawyers present told me it is highly unusual for the act of trespassing to actually garner a jail sentence.
We even saw a counter protest that went off without major incident. Two Wall Street employees showed up in full office attire handing out flyers, calling on bankers to unite against Occupy. It’s quite an entertaining read …
After talking to the cops and even OWS medic Captain, they quickly disappeared again.
NYPD for the most part ignored this protest, leaving the event under supervision of one white shirt cop who clearly didn’t want to be there and a couple of beat cops on stand-by should support be needed. Officer Konstantinidis laid low for the most part, with a few short interludes to remind occupiers of his presence and a minor stand-off with OWS medic Captain, who at first refused to get up from the curb he was sitting on when asked to. Ultimately only a few words and stares were exchanged and no arrest ensued.
One occupier, one of the livestreamers who’s name I didn’t get, had managed to enter the church service and suddenly came out back out shouting that she had just been kicked out. Apparently, Reverend Matthew Heyd during his Sunday sermon informed the congregation of why we were protesting and told his flock that the church was not pressing charges and protesters would not be facing any consequences from their December arrests. Since that is clearly not true (certainly as far as the not facing consequences goes, the DA’s office and Trinity clergy are contradicting themselves as to the pressing of charges), she spoke out during the sermon and corrected the chaplain, telling the congregation about Jack and Mark, the hunger strike, and the possible jail sentence. After apologizing to everyone for disrupting their spiritual moment, she was escorted out by church staff. However, one church staffer followed her out and told her that he was trying to get the chaplain to come out afterwards to speak to her.
Lo and behold, after mass ended, the chaplain and several staffers came out to offer communion to the occupiers and to talk to the group. The livestreamer, Jack and Mark got to say their piece, both to Reverend Heyd and even to Church Rector James Cooper, who followed out later. The conversations were intense but civilized and went on for quite some time. Heyd and Cooper insisted that the church was not pressing charges, even though the District Attorney’s office had told so to the protesters’ attorneys. Jack and Mark both demanded that they go back to the DA’s office and request the charges be dropped, even if they, as they said, had already done so.
Whether there will be actual action or changes in the DA’s stance remains to be seen, but at least the conversation was had and Trinity Church clergy and their congregants now knows undoubtedly what the occupiers are facing. Several congregants came up to speak to protesters afterwards. Some seemed in denial (“It can’t be that they would do such a thing”) or surprised (“why would they tell us otherwise”) but at least some seemed to start thinking and ask questions. All in all, a well-spent afternoon.