Saturday, October 15, 2011

Occupy... what?

I admit I didn't take the Occupy Wall Street movement seriously at first. In fact, I still have a little trouble thinking of it as a true movement, although I've been very impressed that the occupiers haven't resorted to violence and rioting here in the United States. Should it devolve into that... well, that's what I've been expecting all along, I guess. So I'm finding myself more and more impressed despite my misgivings that any sort of sit-in will ever change the way we conduct politics in the United States.

There was a bit of a story today. I've seen a video, but it shows the aftermath more than the actual event. Apparently some 30 or so people decided to protest big banking by going to their bank, Citibank, and closing their accounts all at the same time. I approve of the closure of a bank account, though I'm not sure going in all at once is a good idea. In their case it certainly wasn't, as they were locked in by the bank security and police were called. The police arrested 24 of the protesters for "trespassing," which makes little sense to me, including a woman who, in the video, showed that she was a customer and that she was leaving. It's distinctly possible that innocent non-protesting customers got caught up in the chaos.

Now, here's the thing. I don't know what those people did in the bank.

They claim* that they went in peacefully and quietly and got in line to close their accounts. The bank manager panicked and told them to leave, so they started to leave. But then bank security locked them in, so they were stuck until police arrived to arrest them. If that's the truth, then Citibank REALLY screwed up, and should be sued for false imprisonment, the police should be sued for false arrest and the customers should get a nice, fat payout from Citibank and the NYPD.

*Update: An account from one of the protesters. They didn't get in line and they didn't leave when asked. They were making a commotion.

The bank claims** the protesters were conducting a sit in and didn't leave when they were asked. But the video shows them locked in the bank, and shows a woman who had left the bank being dragged back into it. If they'd been asked to leave, why were they locked in? How long was the event? Were they sitting there for hours, or just a few minutes before the security locked them in? Were the protesters being disruptive?

**Update: Citibank's Statement. Second update: Citibank changed the statement, removing this line: "To be clear: no one was arrested for closing an account; we didn't lock people in our branch - the police decided to close the branch; and we didn't ask for anyone to be arrested - that is a police decision."

Without some crucial facts, I don't know what to think of the event. I do think the way the woman is dragged into the bank in the video is extremely unprofessional of the policeman/security guard who does it, and he should be reprimanded at the least, fired at the worst.

Overall, I'm still not sure what to think of the whole protest thing. But if I had any money in Citibank, I'd be pulling it out already. And I only wish I could get my mortgage free of Wells Fargo, although that isn't likely to be possible any time soon. I'm glad we dumped BoA (aka Bank of EVIL) years ago, and I will never do business with that company again if I can at all help it.

There's some kind of movement to close down all bank accounts with big banks and move to credit unions on November 5th. I'd suggest that if you plan on moving your account, do it now instead. I'm betting the banks will claim there's a run if everyone does it the same day and shut down for a week or two (so make sure your bills are all paid up and you have enough cash to get by even if you don't plan on closing your account). But I whole-heartedly support moving your money to a local bank or credit union and taking some power away from the big banks that ruined our economy then took taxpayer money to "fix" it, and never did. Vote with your dollars.


Jay said...

I bank with a local bank and they've NEVER done me wrong. So I've had to pay an overdraft fee a few times. That's my bad, not theirs.

(Brad Pitt apparently has an account there, too. But no one in Springfield likes him.)