Lawyers and Activists Arrested in Brooklyn Courtroom While Stopping Foreclosures with Song (VIDEO)
Updated below: the singers have been released.
Organizing for Occupation co-sponsored the first Occupy Wall Street action in Brooklyn today, and it didn't disappoint in terms of adding some Brooklyn flair to the once Manhattan bound scene. About a hundred people rallied outside Brooklyn Supreme Court, while inside activists brought the foreclosure proceedings against three homes to a grinding halt by singing an original spiritual composed for the ocassion, "Mr. Auctioneer."
Eventually, court guards threatened everyone in the public gallery (including us and all members of the media) with arrest if we didn't vacate the the public courtroom's public proceedings. Approximately 15 people were arrested, including Common Law attorney Karen Gargamelli, who can be seen in above video continuing to sing as she is led away in plastic handcuffs.
The scene began calmly enough. Michael Strohm, a key figure linking O4O and Occupy Wall Street, arrived at the appointed time the rally was supposed to start, with only a few people in tow. Although there were ample police and barricades in place, Brooklyn Borough Plaza had a lazy feel to it, with drizzle in the air and the farmers' market going on as scheduled. Srohm told us that, due to an emergency legal meeting to deal with what appears to be an imminent, de-facto eviction from Zuccotti Plaza, he wasn't expecting too many people trekking over from Manhattan.
Lacking a sound permit, Strohm's megaphone was quickly banned by the cops, and people began giving their testimonials using Occupy Wall Street's now signature call-and-response human microphone. Then Reverend Billy, a man whose unorthodox political/religious/performance art career has been waiting for just such times as these, took the "stage." Calling for a "Revalujah!," he didn't need any microphone.
Rev. Billy tried to whip the crowd up into hysteria, telling them that the foreclosure of homes began in banal court proceedings, like the ones going on right inside. Then, Frank Morales of O4O got up to speak, in place of 82-year-old Mary Lee Ward, who was late.
Morales said that, though negotiations are reportedly on-going between Ward, the man who bought her house, the bank who sold it to him, and the state Attorney General's office, Ms. Ward is still facing eviction. Last Tuesday, the day before a planned meeting of these parties, the current "alleged" landlord served Ms. Ward with another eviction notice, breaking the lock on her front door to get in and post it. Morales called for a renewed effort towards Ms. Ward's "eviction patrol."
Meanwhile, the proceedings inside the courtroom turned out not to be so banal after. Before the foreclosure hearings of the three buildings could even start (which our Michelle Anderson profiled earlier today), a group of activists stopped everything, in song.
By the time we got inside room 227, a public courtroom where any member of the public can observe or bid to buy homes in foreclosure, several activists had been ejected for singing. But inside, there were about 10 people still belting out an original song they'd composed, "Mr. Auctioneer," at the top of their lungs. They were harmonizing beautifully, and the guards (who outnumbered them two to one) looked flummoxed and stunned as the music rang off the acoustically accommodating wooden walls. The judge was absent.
Eventually, the guards got a hold of themselves and decided this singing had to stop. They told everyone in the courtroom -- including members of the public and the news media, sitting in the public gallery -- that we would be arrested if we didn't leave the courtroom.
As we left (while covertly shooting the above video), none of the singing protestors -- including Common Law attorneys Jay Kim and Karen Gargamelli, who have been instrumental in Ms. Ward's legal struggles -- were still singing cheerfully, plastic handcuffs around their wrists.
News spread quickly to the crowd outside, which had grown to about 100 people. Ms. Ward finally arrived. She thanked the crowd, and expressed her empathy, noting her 16 year foreclosure nightmare began at a proceeding just like this. She also told anyone who would listen that when her home was up for auction, there was a conflict of interest between the parties involved:
The crowd believed that they had staved off the foreclosures for at least one day. But after we were ejected from court, a man who says he goes to these auctions every Thursday to consider buying properties told our Michelle Anderson that court did reconvene, and that only one of the properties Anderson profiled, 1241 Flatbush Avenue, was sold.
Anderson is heading out to the address this evening to see if the the owners of New Bombay Masala Restaurant have gotten official word that the building they rent has been sold.
Update, 6:45: Lawyer Karen Gargamelli tells us they have been released. Nine people were arrested -- including her law partner Jay Kim, members of Reverend Billy's Choir, a member of the Catholic Workers, and two musicians who wrote the song -- and none were sent to Central Booking. They were held in the Supreme Court building, treated well, and were written up for disorderly conduct, for which they'll have to appear in court in January.
She added, "When you know the way foreclosures happen, you know a foreclosure auction like this should never happen. If we know that as lawyers, we have a duty to say something about this."
For more New York news, go to Runnin' Scared