(MintPress) – Forty Minnesota Occupy Homes activists stood in solidarity with community organizer Anthony Newby during the closing arguments of his trial Monday, donning blue garments in support of the defendant. Newby was found not guilty of fifth degree assault, but was found guilty of trespassing during a March 1, 2012, protest at the law offices of Freddie Mac in downtown St. Paul.
During closing arguments on Monday, Occupy Homes activists showed support for Newby claiming that the charges against him were “outrageous.”
“We definitely see this as a political act designed to intimidate. Officials in St. Paul are using public resources to attack a peaceful movement,” said Nick Espinosa, an Occupy Homes activist in a recent statement to Mint Press News.
Newby, a 38-year-old organizer with Occupy Homes Minnesota, faced charges for allegedly hurting a female employee at the law offices of Reiter & Schiller during a protest last year. Newby and other protesters were engaging in a peaceful act of civil disobedience on behalf of Monique White, a community member facing eviction.
“I feel like we put together a very strong case. At the same time the prosecution has been strong attempting to demonize Anthony. There is a mostly-white jury prosecuting an African-American defendant,” added Espinosa.
After a seven-month campaign, U.S. Bank gave White a loan modification, allowing the Minneapolis resident to stay in her home. Since beginning their work in 2011, the group has successfully staved off foreclosure for seven families in the Minneapolis area.
According to the Occupy Homes Minnesota website, White was one of the first home defense projects for the burgeoning movement. “Protesters camped out in and around her home, held over a dozen marches on U.S. Bank, collected over 6,500 petition signatures, packed the courtroom, shut down Bank branches, and even marched to the home of U.S. Bank CEO Richard Davis.”
Behind the charges
Attempting to defend Monique’s home against U.S. Bank’s impending foreclosure, paralegal Denise Reinke alleges that Newby “pulled her out of the doorway, then pushed her to the side, causing her to fall down the steps,” according to the criminal complaint.
Reinke injured her knee in the incident. Espinosa, a participant in the action, describes the event as purely accidental, escalated by an individual not affiliated with the Occupy Homes group.
“It was not meant to be any kind of occupation. It was a peaceful picket in front of the law office. A small delegation went in to negotiate a meeting,” added Espinosa. After going to the door of the law office trying to schedule a meeting, the door was forced open by an individual not affiliated with the group. Reinke fell, then yelled “you people are animals,” according to Espinosa and other witnesses. Newby, was standing by the door but was reportedly not involved in the action that led to Reinke’s fall.
Given the previous record of trumped-up charges against Occupy Homes activists, the charges against Newby could very well be another attempt to silence criticism of unjust bank policies and slow the momentum of a strong housing rights movement.
Previously, four Occupy Homes activists, Catherine Salonek, Jessica Davis, Tomahawk Riley and Dee Xaba were charged with third degree rioting for sitting on a sidewalk during a May 30 protest. The charges constituted a gross misdemeanor classified as a violent crime and could have resulted in two years in prison and up to a $7,000 fine.
However, the four pleaded guilty to lesser charges, agreeing to stay away from the Cruz family home, the site of the May 30 protest, for the duration of their probation.
These attacks have not dissuaded Occupy Homes as they continue to carry on with their resistance to unjust bank foreclosures.
“We’ve always been completely nonviolent. People are very motivated and energized by the politically motivated charges against this movement,” Espinosa added. Advocates from the movement are working to secure a foreclosure free zone in Minneapolis and a homeowner’s bill of rights, among other pieces of legislation.