In solidarity with Standing Rock, a sit-in at Wells Fargo building downtown

City Paper

While many Baltimoreans were nursing turkey hangovers at home or out stalking the malls for Black Friday deals, an elderly man was being rushed to the hospital after he was shot by police this morning near 33rd Street and Greenmount Avenue while downtown, activists staged a sit-in at the Wells Fargo Bank, in solidarity with Standing Rock.

The few dozen people first gathered this morning at Columbus Park in Little Italy for the Skip the Stores for the Streets, Solidarity with Standing Rock protest—in support of those opposing the 1,168-mile long crude oil pipeline at Standing Rock, North Dakota—and had a moment of silence for Indigenous peoples. The pipeline, which "water protectors" have been fighting in a stand-off that began in spring 2016, will transport oil from North Dakota to Illinois and travels through Indigenous land.

Speakers at Columbus Park included Juan Ortiz, a Raramuri native, who mentioned plans to ask the Baltimore City Council to "have some of these monuments to Columbus and other colonizers removed and to also to change Columbus Day to Indigenous people's day." (City Council votes on changing the name on Dec. 5). Ortiz asked for support now, urging those gathered to call their representatives, and later on when there are further marches and protests tied to the plight of native peoples.

Recent events at Standing Rock where police sprayed activists with water cannons and fired concussion grenades, rubber bullets into the group, injuring hundreds, were also invoked. (The North Dakota Sheriff’s Department denies firing concussion grenades; a GoFundMe for Sophia Wilansky, whose arm was severely damaged, is currently nearing $370,000).

The group then marched to the Wells Fargo Bank downtown. Along the way they encountered at least two people who threatened them: a man in camouflage who got out of his car as the group walked down President St., angry the marchers touched his car, and another man who said he was going to go home get his gun and shoot the marchers.

"Oil is death, water is life," shouted Nic Powell, as the group moved onto President St. and a man clutched his dog and claimed he'd soon be back with a gun.

When they arrived at Wells Fargo Bank on the corner of St. Paul and E. Baltimore St., a dozen or so people walked into the Wells Fargo bank, shouting "Protect the water, defund the pipeline," holding a banner that read "Decolonize Air, Water, and Land."

Then, similar to this summer's #STOPFOP protest, three activists affixed a chain of U-Locks around their necks and sat down and began reading four demands: "1. We demand that Wells Fargo divest from the Dakota Access Pipeline; 2. We demand that Wells Fargo divest from predatory development and gentrification; 3. We ask the people of Baltimore to divest from Wells Fargo; 4. We ask the city of Baltimore to respect Indigenous sovereignty by changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day and by removing colonialists statues."

Outside, as many held signs that read, among other things, "No DAPL," "Big Oil Out Of Native Land," and "From Standing Rock To Palestine Ethnic Cleansing Is A Crime," chants from outside were repeated by those inside. Some speakers invoked Wells Fargo's involvement in the subprime mortgage crisis and its "20 year history of predatory banking," and the bank's "ghetto loans" scandal where it forced subprime loans on black families. "We will not support banks that fund pipelines in North Dakota or displace long time Baltimore residents," organizer Gracie Greenberg said in a press release put out during the action.

Eventually, a line of police officers blocked the entrance to the building and soon after the arrests began. Activists observed that police were there to protect the bank which only proved the necessity of the protest more. 

Following the initial arrests, Ralikh Hayes of Baltimore Bloc, screamed out Assatta Shakur's Freedom Chant, and at least one officer nearby seemed torn-up, during the chant, almost unable to keep his face from twisting with worry or fear.

As more were arrested, shouts of "Fuck 12" replaced the NODAPL-themed chants. Sgt. Charles Thompson, an officer who has developed a reputation with protesters as being particularly heavy-handed, received a chant of his own briefly, when he entered the building and some outside shouted, "Thompson is an agitator."

The three activists linked together with the U-Locks were covered in a white sheet and the fire department tried to cut them free. The first attempt didn't work and then they brought in different equipment which finally got them free.

As police brought the arrested activists out, they continued to shout, "Divest, defund," as police moved them to a police van. As they were placed in the van—and seat belted in, many observed—they shouted, "From Baltimore to Standing Rock, don't need oil, don't need cops."

In total, there were six arrests. One of the activists arrested was taken to the hospital.

UPDATE: All six arrested were released early this morning. All six arrested were charged with "trespassing." One of the activists was also charged with "disorderly conduct," "failure to obey," "disturbing the peace," and "resisting arrest." He was not one of the three locked-in.

For a gallery of photos from the sit-in click here.

Copyright © 2017, Baltimore City Paper, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Privacy Policy
28°