First convictions of Occupy Philly protesters

Posted: June 14, 2012

After a string of courtroom victories this year, the Occupy Philly movement felt the sting of defeat Wednesday, when 12 members were found guilty of defiant trespassing and conspiracy, stemming from a November sit-in protest at a Center City Wells Fargo Bank.

After a more than five-hour trial, Municipal Judge Marsha Neifield said she believed that prosecutors had proved their case, then announced the sentences for the 12 defendants: each is to pay a $500 fine plus court costs.

"This is B.S.," mumbled someone in the courtroom, packed with Occupy members in matching red T-shirts.

"We're very disappointed, and we intend to appeal," said Paul Hetznecker, a Center City civil-rights attorney who represented some of the defendants Wednesday and others at the previous Occupy trials.

On Nov. 18, the Occupiers staged a "citizens' foreclosure" at the Wells Fargo at 17th and Market streets. They protested to bring attention to what they called the bank's "racist predatory lending" resulting in a disproportionate number of foreclosures in black neighborhoods, and its unfair deals with the city's school district and other agencies that have cost taxpayers millions in fees.

"What I was doing at Wells Fargo that night was trying to give a voice to the voiceless," testified Anthony Abata, 26, a housing counselor for a nonprofit.

Three times this year, Occupy protesters have been acquitted: seven on Monday who were arrested for a sit-in at Comcast Center on Nov. 2; 30 in April who were arrested after being evicted from Dilworth Plaza on Nov. 30; and 10 in February who were arrested in October for blocking traffic in front of police headquarters, at 8th and Race streets. n

Contact Mensah M. Dean at 215-568-8278 or deanm@phillynews.com

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