City of Minneapolis prosecutors would like the protests calling attention to unfair evictions of homeowners to stop says an attorney representing one of protesters. Attorney Jordan Kushner says prosecutors are trying to intimidate the Occupy Homes protesters who have been arrested for trespassing by elevating the charges to rioting. Rioting carries the possibility of jail time, a criminal record and several thousand dollars in fines.
This week a judge hearing the case about the October 2011 Occupy Homes arrests at US Bank wouldn’t allow the new rioting charges saying they cannot be increased without new evidence. That allowed the protesters to agree to a plea bargain equivalent to a traffic ticket. Occupy Homes supporters are celebrating that victory. However, City attorneys are trying the same rioting charge tactic again with another set of more recent Occupy Homes protester arrests.
Defense attorney Jordan Kushner said, “The decision to level more serious charges then are normally leveled against people for non-violent civil disobedience protests was made by the higher ups in the office.”
“So it’s obvious that’s what is going on is an effort to intimidate people. The city attorney?s office is tired of the protest activity that’s going on. The prosecutor in the case yesterday expressed that to the judge in private that he was concerned or even upset about the prospect of the protests continuing.”
Kushner’s client, Occupy Homes organizer Nick Espinosa, was in court on Wednesday for a pre-trial hearing on charges that had recently been elevated from trespassing to rioting. “I’ve never had someone charged with riot for just sitting in front of a physical space,” said Kushner.
“That?s no way to treat nonviolent protesters,” said Espinoza. “To me it’s clearly an attempt to silence people and to scare them from standing up for their neighbors and fighting back.”
Espinoza says on Wednesday prosecutors offered to reduce his charge to a misdemeanor. He says would only accept the deal if the charges against 33 other arrestees were dropped. “Needless to say, we’re going to trial,” Espinoza posted on his Facebook page.
Deb Konechne, who is with Occupy Minneapolis and Welfare Rights said, “I see this is a part of the whole repressive apparatus that is trying to squash the movement as fast as possible because they are very afraid of what this movement is doing”
David Cruz, homeowner who has been battling for months over a bank error, said, “How do you exercise your First Amendment (right to speech) when every time you exercise it you have to get arrested for crazy charges like rioting. When a police officer steps on me, I’m rioting.”
Mel Reeves, well-known activist and journalist observed, “We got folks like Nick and other people who are pretty much guilty of being a good human being. That’s how I see it.”
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