Singing Protesters Arrested Again During "Public" Foreclosure Auction

Activists took up song to protest a "public" foreclosure auction in Brooklyn Supreme Court this afternoon. Many of those gathered (from FUREE, Housing Is a Human Right, Organizing for Occupation, and a new group called Occupied Real Estate) had taken part in another singing act of protest last October to temporarily halt foreclosure proceedings and bring attention to the fact that every week, week after week, foreclosure auctions take place which leave families homeless when members of the "public" successfully buy the homes.

But this time was rather different. Far more people participated, with the courtroom being filled with about 60 people initially, according to Michael Premo of Housing is a Human Right; we personally saw over 20 people arrested, and organizers say approximately 35 were taken into custody.

And, since after court resumed and everyone but people the guards thought were buyers were barred from the courtroom (including members of the press), it couldn't really be called a "public" auction at all.

When we arrived at 3:00 PM, the singing already started. As the Voice was going through the metal detector in the lobby of Brooklyn Supreme Court, we could hear "Listen Auctioneer," a protest song composed for the October action, being sung in harmony and drifting down the marble hallway. State police sprinted down towards the music, as if they were running to put out a fire.

The first person we saw being led away in plastic cuffs was Rachel Falcone of Housing Is a Human Right (and our former colleague at StoryCorps). We also recognized lawyers Karen Gargamelli and Jay Kim of the legal firm Common Law. All three women -- like all the people led away -- kept singing the auctioneer sung as they were taken into custody.

The scene outside Room 224 of the courthouse was one of controlled chaos. According to Premo, when the singing started, people were ordered to leave the courtroom. Those who stayed did so knowing they would be arrested.

But the hallway was plenty full of protestors still singing, who were driving the police crazy; strangely, though they yelled (and even begged) a couple of times for them to please stop singing, they didn't threaten to arrest them for that.

What they did threaten them for was not staying on one side of a nebulous, invisible line in the middle of the hallway, and for using any media (recording devices, phones, video cameras) in the hallway, even though signs on the wall clearly said such machines were barred from the courtroom but didn't seem to be from the rest of the building.

We were threatened by this fellow at the end of the below video, who said if we kept recording us he was going to have handcuffs slapped on us.

We suspect that he wasn't a law enforcement at all, but someone far more powerful -- a potential buyer, who just didn't want to be on camera or interviewed.

Judging from what happened from this moment on, it would appear that the courts are indeed occupied...but not by singers at all. They have been occupied by potential buyers. They are the only ones allowed into the court, and the court functions on their whims.

Once all the activists were arrested, the "public" courtroom re-opened, by the police would only let certain people inside. They would not let anyone who was singing back into the courtroom, even if they stopped; and they wouldn't let this reporter or any other member of the media inside for the first time. They only let people in who they believed had the money to buy a foreclosed property, which made for a very strange dynamic, considering it's a public hearing (and by law a foreclosure auction must be open to the public for anyone to make a bid, as one housing expert explained to us).

We were not let inside at all. At first, we were accused of being a protestor, and told that we'd been thrown out already. We patiently explained we were neither a protestor, nor had we been in the room at all; we also explained that we'd handed off our phone to someone to hold and had no electronic equipment. We were non-threatening, non-confrontational, and had nothing for the court to fear (other than reporting on what they were doing, perhaps). Therefore, we should be let inside to report.

The officer asked for our press pass; we presented our Voice ID, business card, and government issued New York State driver's license. He scoffed and said we had to have an NYPD press pass. This is patently untrue; the NYPD press pass is only necessary to cross police and fire lines and have no jurisdiction in a state court or anywhere else. Our driver's license and Voice ID have been sufficient for entry into City Hall, the galleries of the New York State and United States Senate; and
have been accepted by the Secret Service in order to sit with the White House Press Corp in order to have close proximity to the President of the United States. No court in the city has ever asked us for an NYPD press pass before, a useless tool we eschew that leaves reporters powerless.

Regardless, it was a public court session; any member of the public, or press, should be allowed in. But these cops' orders were clearly only to let in potential buyers of properties. These men (they appeared to be all men) were trying to get the auction going again and seemed quite fearful that it might get cancelled before they could make a purchase.

The court clearly belonged to these men.

We kept arguing with cops until we found one who at least pretended to engage our umbrage at being kept out of reporting on the public proceedings of a public court. He took his concerns to Major Luz Bryan of the New York State Courts. He said he had to get permission from her. Then, the court session abruptly ended, and all the prospective buyers came out and retrieved their phones and left.

When she finally came out, we had a hard time believing that Major Bryan was the one in charge. She is a woman who looks so unhealthy, you wouldn't imagine she could walk to the subway without trouble, let alone be the commander of a courthouse. (And perhaps she's not in control of her courthouse; as one protester claimed, the state courts are under strict budget restrictions and cannot afford overtime. Perhaps Major Bryan would be on the chopping block if she didn't shut that shit down fast and had to pay any of her officers overtime.)

Major Bryan had no good reason as to why she wouldn't let us in. First, she said I'd been warned to be quiet when I was in courtroom (which I was never in); then she said we didn't have an NYPD press pass; finally she told us to take it up with her supervisor, Chief Jewel Williams, and to file a complaint if we didn't like it. She refused to answer any questions and cleared the hallway.

When we left the court building, the protest organizers were taking a head count of how many had been arrested. They were quickly shooed off the public stairs and from being too close to the public entrance.

We snuck back inside and asked a guard at the information booth if any sales had taken place during the brief time the auction was back in session.

"I don't know," he said, annoyed. "We couldn't be inside. We were too busy trying to take care of all the trouble everyone was making," he said derisively.

"If you'd let me inside to the public court, I could have reported, found out for myself if any sales took place, and not bothered you" we responded before leaving.

@steven_thrasher | sthrasher@villagevoice.com


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21 comments
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Ninafel
Ninafel

I was quite moved by your article until I read this: <<When she finally came out, we had a hard time believing that Major Bryan was the one in charge. She is a woman who looks so unhealthy, you wouldn't imagine she could walk to the subway without trouble, let alone be the commander of a courthouse.>>

Excuse me??? Health is not a moral imperative. Nor can one tell anything about a person's health by looking at them. What in the world does this city official's health or looks have to do with how well she can do her job? To cast aspersions on whether a person is competent to be in charge due to how they look is the worst kind of prejudice--as bad as racism.

Shanib7
Shanib7

You guys are not getting the whole picture. I have been observing Brooklyn's foreclosure auctions for the last two and a half years. ( I am currently underemployed). In all this time not one owner occupied house was sold. Every property sold including the day of the disruption was a commercial property, in which the owner was collecting rents from his tenants while stiffing the mortgage company. Definitely not someone we should feel sorry for.Not that I feel sorry for the banks who got bailouts, but let's put our efforts into helping the homeowners in pAces that are losing their homes.

Butch1
Butch1

I am really sorry, I am a total jerk for jumping down peoples throats without provovation. I hve seen the error of my ways!

Butch1
Butch1

Some one is writing under my name. Stop it, It isn't funny. It's real easy to find out who you are by checking your IP address. I suggest you stop right now or we'll have the moderator check out who you really are. Got it? Fair warning. The real Butch1 

Butch1
Butch1

So much for public servants and public sales and public buildings. I guess those are just for the upper tier citizens who control the government. In other words the 1% er's get the justice and have the backing of the law whilst those 99%er's who actually pay the bills get the shaft and short end of the belly club every time. When is this going to stop? I hope the people took that arrogant judge's advice and complained to her bosses and filed some law suits about people being denied access to a "public" auction. Arrested for singing, indeed. What is this country coming to?

The police have no right stifling the rights of the citizens by pushing them out of public places. We need to stop this abuse of their over reaching power. They are thugs and seem to enjoy leaning on the "have-not's" in this society. When this all eventually turns around payback is going to be very harsh on these sadistic thugs who were just following orders.

Filebackup
Filebackup

Butch1, you are an idiot. What judge are you talking about.? Have someone read the article to you again!

You give the OWS the air of ignorance, stop posting.

Butch1
Butch1

The one who finally came out and spoke to the people in the hall was the one I confused with the judge. I did go back and look again and when it mentioned the person in charge of the courtroom I wrongly assumed it to be the judge. That was my fault.

Now, lets talk about your rudeness in attacking me by calling me an idiot when I make a simple mistake. At least I am able to admit it. You on the other hand, have a problem with ad hominem and it is something you need to work on. You could have approached this in a different manner rather than your all out attack at trying to sink me in this way. I wonder if you have many friends with the way you handle interacting with others. Perhaps, you should stop posting until you can learn a proper way of interacting with others. You show your ignorance more than the mistake I made.

Butch1
Butch1

I think that's a good idea. All of the comments have been coming to me instead of their intended person. ( I'm assuming "Asodu" is "Glenn"?  )  

I'm certainly willing to put this to rest as it really isn't worth all the fuss. 

Asodu
Asodu

Actually it was just a continuation of the thread and I was replying to "filebackup", I was not "piling on" or rubbing anyones nose in anything. I really think everyone needs to chill a bit.

Butch1
Butch1

I received this "berating from you today after I had admitted my mistake. for some reason you needed to pile on and make a point. Why? I did not need another person pointing out that I had made that mistake but you felt the need to do it  and you are wondering why I wrote you back? Now I am totally confused. Please explain why you feel I do not have the right to even defend myself from more people who feel the need to continue to point out to me that I made that mistake?  Was this really necessary? Please read the comment I received from you below:=================================================================================

Glennwrote, in response to Butch1:

"This person is NOT in charge of the courtroom,he is an auctioneer/trustee, he is in charge of only the auctions he is doing.

Clearly you know nothing of the process, the court procedures or the courtheirarchy. If you would speak from experience, of what you know not what yourimpression is, your postings would hold some credibilty, instead theyare just rantings."================================================================================

Do you not think for a minute that you might be piling on when it wasn't necessary? I thought we were all on the same side of this issue?  I've said it was a mistake, and there isn't much more I can do. I will not just let others continue to pile on for what ever their personal reasons are. I'm a reasonable person but as with the first person, I do not put up with ad hominem or those who pile on. If you want to have constructive dialogue keep it in a positive tone where we can all learn from it.  Rubbing a person's nose in something is not how you enlighten them. 

Butch

Glenn
Glenn

I dont understand why you seem to be berating me.

Butch1
Butch1

Yes, clearly I don't know the process. I'm not sure whether you do either. What I thought I had read was wrong and I admitted it  in a responding comment.  Perhaps, if the person who wrote the article had been clearer in presenting what had happened it might have been clearer. And yes, I am allowed to rant on this article. I didn't realize you were in charge of making the rules for commenting. I stated in a second comment that I had misunderstood it  and confused  the person who came out for being the judge. I'm not sure how it happened but, it did.  The way the article was written is was easy to do so at least for me it was. 

Your piling on is an example of wasting more time rather than just excepting the fact that someone could make a mistake and and admit it. I think it was more credible of me to come back and admit I had made the mistake than not to do so. Your piling on reduces your standing to not much more than a bully, Glenn. You do not get to decide what I get to say or how I say it. If I made a mistake and corrected it, that makes me more credible and you do not get to decide that. You, on the other hand telling others whether they can rant or not are trying to silence others from speaking on this forum.

 Perhaps, you know more about court proceedings than I. Then it is your job to enlighten those of us who don't not shut them down in a sarcastic way. Who pissed in your cornflakes?  

I do know that shutting people out of a public auction is illegal and what the cops did was wrong whether I understand court procedure or not. Arresting citizens in the hallway of the public building was wrong as well. Call that a rant if you like but you do not get to decide what others get to say on this site. You are just one of many others. Deal with it.

Glenn
Glenn

I dont understand why anyone is attacking the judges that sit in Brookyln? I dont believe they are allied with anyone, in fact they side with the homeowners over the banks.The unfortunate fact is that many times a mortgagee in default has gone years trying to remedy a default and many times it cant be fixed.

If you really want to make an impact, go out to Queens, Long Island, Staten ISland where foreclosures are happening at a much greater frequency than Brooklyn.

Mike W.
Mike W.

Presents a great opportunity for the protestors and the families whose homes were being auc6oned off.

The properties in the auction, by law, have to be advertised and the ads will identify the mortgage holder, the default owner, the minimum bid amount, etc.  A call to the mortgage holder should yield whether or not the property was sold.

If so, suit may be filed to negate the sale, since the the auction was not  "public."

Nice monkey wrench to throw into the mix.  A talented, agresive real estate attorny should welcome such and opportunity. 

Could possibly reveal info regarding the legitimacy of the  mortgage, ?????  does the mortgage holder have the original document .....possibly give the homeowner additional time to renegotiate, etc.

Pass it on to the interested parties.

MikeOregon

Butch1
Butch1

Perhaps, it would wipe that arrogance off the judge's demeanor. Acting like you are a god and do not have to even listen to the people who put you in this position of trust tells one she has been in that position for too long and has forgotten how she got there. She has taken for granted that what she says is always the law and shouldn't be questioned and the people in the hall are scum. Time to remove this blight from our court system. 

Tardyjay
Tardyjay

Fantastic! Keep up the good works peeps. The man won't keep us down!

Rachel
Rachel

Did anybody figure out who the guy at the end of the video, the one on the phone, is?

Ivan11221
Ivan11221

I’m an employee of the development company that bought the property at the auction which was “disrupted” by OWS. OWS people were giving out flyers at the auction that read “beautiful former children’s school in Bed Stuy…. perfect for education and community oriented organizations...” These guys really make me laugh. Instead of doing a little research on the building they make bold statements like that. I consider myself being a far leftist, my parents are Russian communists, but this is too much even for me.

A simple research shows that the owner of the property was a failed non-profit organization Miracle Makers, they embezzled tens of millions of TAXPAYERS’dollars, they borrowed $750K for renovation of this building from a private lender, and they stole it too. They sucked money from the city, state and federal government, pretending to take care of children and homeless. But they were plain thiefs. Just read the NYT article about them: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11...

Some excerpts for those too lazy to click on the link above: “ Miracle Makers is…the agency slowly collapsed under its own mismanagement, wasting money and failing to provide services.” ”The Times’s examination found that hundreds of thousands of dollars went for programs that appeared to exist chiefly on paper. Workers and money were improperly shuffled from one government contract to shore up another.”” When the judge, Bryanne A. Hamill, learned in court in 2005 that they had been without therapy for months, she blasted Miracle Makers. “They fail families,” she said.”

This building sat unoccupied at least since 2007 (the year I moved to Bed Stuy), it became a blight on the block already, it would have collapsed already if not for the efforts of the lender to preserve it. Why do you think this foreclosure case went thru so easily? Because the owners are probably somewhere South of the border with all the money they stole, and they wouldn’t care to even oppose this foreclosure.

Perhaps, there are some grandmothers out there losing their houses to unfair foreclosures, you go and help them out, instead of standing up for crooks and embezzlers. And leave it to us to improve the neighborhood.

Stephanie Basile
Stephanie Basile

Great action and great reporting - it is disgusting that people's livelihoods are destroyed and homes then sold as a commodity. Kudos to those who participated in this action!

crookedE
crookedE

Great story on a really creative collective action. Is it possible that any lawsuits will be filed about the violation of people's civil rights? I'll be interested to hear about what happens next.

JustCallMeMary
JustCallMeMary

Facinating and well reported story. Please keep us internet readers updated on what happened as a result of this and your efforts to report. This situation really tests fundamental rights of the citizens. Gotta love these protesters for doin it right.

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