By Willy Staley  Posted on Tue Oct 18, 2011

OWS Protesters Arrested at Citibank: What Went Wrong

A video from Occupy Wall Street surfaced on Saturday showing demonstrators being arrested at a Greenwich Village Citibank branch as they were trying to close their accounts. 23 were arrested, in all.

As a sort of the march from Zuccotti Park to Washington Square Park that Occupy Wall Street organized on Saturday, there was an 11am “March on the Banks” that took protestors to a Chase branch to close out their accounts. Nothing went wrong there. But when a group of protestors who happened to be Citibank customers did their own march to the closest Citibank (NYSE: C) branch to Washington Square Park, at 555 LaGuardia Place. According to initial reports, the protestors were locked inside the branch and then arrested, just for trying to close their accounts!

Naturally, the savvy protesters got most of the scene onto YouTube showing protestors locked into the bank branch, then being swarmed with NYPD, both blue- and white-collar, as well as a particularly rough undercover officer.

Citibank issued a brief statement on the matter, stating that the protestors were “very disruptive and refused to leave after being repeatedly asked, causing our staff to call 911.” They go on to explain the door-locking as police orders, and address the accusations that they arrested people for trying to close their accounts.

“The Police asked the branch staff to close the branch until the protestors could be removed. Only one person asked to close an account and was accommodated.”

Today, Gawker got one protester’s side of the story, which explains more than the video or Citi’s statement. In short, Citibank’s branch employees definitely overreacted, but protestors weren’t just shutting down their accounts: they were having a sort of protest in the middle of the bank.

From her version of the story: “We entered the building chanting. Inside, a man began by announcing that we were there to have a short teach-in regarding our student loan experiences…were were asked to leave by management, but chose to keep on talking. We were not shouting or moving about at all — we were in a loosely formed circle in the center of the bank lobby.”

After about 20 minutes of the teach-in, the doors were locked, and the cops arrived. According to her version of the story, a few people were there to actually close their accounts, and they did.

So the lessons for both protesters and bank branches are clear: protesters should stick to doing their protests in public places, and consider making their account closings more orderly, and not affiliated with disruptive protests; banks should accommodate their customers as much as they can, even if they are protesters, lest they face a PR nightmare due to NYPD’s aggressive tactics.

What this whole fiasco gets back to is Occupy Wall Street’s centerless organization, and the wide variety of complaints against corporate America that it this organizational structure entails. Should a move to pull money from corporate banks into credit unions be accompanied by a teach-in on student debt? Citibank does issue student loans, but cashing out your Citi checking account for a credit union account seems to be more of a protest against large corporate banks gouging customers after receiving massive bailouts from the federal government, not their lending practices.

Above all, Occupy Wall Street protesters should remember that bank branch employees are part of the 99% too, and don’t deserve to be treated like a bunch of little Vikram Pandits. And, even if OWS’ 60’s-inspired tactics are peaceful at heart, they are disruptive — that’s the point — and they should expect that corporate employees with innumerable superiors and liabilities will likely involve the authorities to wash their hands of responsibility for anything that may go wrong.

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  • http://twitter.com/FinancialBrand The Financial Brand

    I believe it’s legally considered “kidnapping” or “false imprisonment” to hold someone in any location against their will. I’d bet those protesters will file a lawsuit. Who knows, the DA may even decide to file charges. Locking people inside a building is dangerous. What if there had been a fire?

    • Anonymous

      That’s a good point. From what I read on Gawker, it sounds like the arrival of the police and the locking of the doors was somewhat simultaneous. But Citi’s statement makes it seem as though they did lock the doors in advance of NYPD’s arrival. I wonder what the legality is if the police department tells you to do this?

      The bank and NYPD clearly overreacted quite viciously, and they’re on the wrong side here, but it still seems clear that demonstrations of this sort are better off in public (or in the case of Zuccotti Park, privately-owned public) spaces.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-Baker/1135710180 Mark Baker

        There was a police officer on site at the time of the protest, the protesters have said this themselves.  I would say that police officer told the bank to close the doors and detained the protesters until backup arrived

        • http://twitter.com/FinancialBrand The Financial Brand

          Still not sure it’s legal, although that may give Citi the legal cover they need.

        • Jonr14

          Did the police tell the protesters to leave?  But the video show protesters locked inside and other outside!  Then the police show up and and arrest some of the people outside.  Why?

  • LeAnne

    It is most definately illegal to lock customers in the bank, false imprisonment!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-Baker/1135710180 Mark Baker

      dislike, think before you post next time

    • Daphne

      it’s not illegal, just an overreaction. it’s standard procedure when there is a robbery.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VBMA3EKCLJP2BLMO7W3KKZYB3M Dennis

    Those protesters going onto the bank premises not to conduct business created a huge security risk to everyone in that bank at the time.  To the customers, to the employees and to themselves.

    Please be cognizant of that fact when you feign indignation for the doors being locked when the crowd would not move out of the bank.  Anybody can walk into a bank and claim they are a customer, in fact, that’s exactly what robbers do most times.

    • http://twitter.com/FinancialBrand The Financial Brand

      What were the “huge security risks” presented to the customers, employees and protesters? I’m only able to imagine “slightly mild security risks.”

      And for the record, I am neither sympathetic to the protestors, nor am I “feigning” any kind of “indignation” for them. I’m questioning the legality of locking people in a building against their will without proper authority. No matter how annoying these trespassers were, it does not entitle the victim (Citi) to break laws themselves.

      Also, keep in mind that other customers were likely in the facility at the time the doors were locked. Dennis, how would you feel if you were a legitimate customer locked inside a bank branch? I’m guessing you’d probably be pretty pissed.

  • http://twitter.com/TheGimp420 PATRICK CHEWING

    Wow More lawsuits. Great.

  • Sh5796

    They are crazy. The protesters have a right to say and do whatever they like. If they want to close out their account they should be allowed to do so. I see nothing but police trying to block cade people inside a bank to make a statement 

  • Jonr14

    In the Video you see people locking inside.  Then when the police come they arrested someone outside too.  Citi bank will pay out in the suet! 

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