On Monday afternoon 27 people were arrested in front of the Department of Justice and put behind bars. Their crime: Being sick and tired of Washington bailing out banks while there is no bailout for those among the other 99 percent of the country who are drowning in underwater mortgages.
Almost 500 activists from the faith, progressive and labor community traveled to Washington this week to protest the ongoing mortgage foreclosure crisis and our government’s failure to act. Several volunteered to be arrested (although they did not volunteer to have police use stun guns on them as they were being arrested) to make the point that the police have arrested the wrong people.
While these innocent citizens sit behind bars, those who robbed the middle class and committed the crime have yet to be brought to justice. “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out” and “arrest the bankers, not the people” were a few chants heard at Monday’s protest.
A news conference outside the Justice Department on Tuesday featured leaders of major organizations that supported the protest, including Larry Cohen of the Communications Workers of America and Laura MacCleery of National Nurses United. “The citizens that came to the Justice Department to ask for justice are now in jail” and the Justice Department “needs to remember what its name stands for,” said Robert Borosage of the Campaign for America’s Future. But he added that “it’s not too late for justice to be done.”
For one thing, the Justice Department could reverse its policy of asserting that the leaders of the banks responsible for the financial crisis are too big to jail and begin to aggressively prosecute instances of wrongdoing. The administration could require financial institutions to pay financial restitution commensurate with the cost of the damage of their reckless behavior. And it could push the banks to offer underwater homeowners – those who did all they could to save their homes but were thwarted by the banks themselves – real relief, mortgages reset based on current home values and opportunities to refinance at today’s below-3-percent interest rates.
These demands were included in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. “Americans lost 40 percent of their household wealth, while communities of color were hit even harder – Latinos losing 66 percent of their household wealth and African Americans 53 percent,” the letter said. “Over a quarter of homeowners with mortgages are underwater, owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. As a growing chorus of experts and leaders called for a widespread program to reduce mortgage principal, we became hopeful that this would happen. It hasn’t.”
When some banks, as part of a settlement with the Obama administration, received $300 checks that were intended to compensate homeowners for tens of thousands of dollars in lost equity in their homes, “our patience ran out. We’ve had enough.”
Five of the demonstrators who were arrested Monday chose to symbolize the people who actually should be jailed by identifying themselves as Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs; Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America; and John Stumpf, CEO of Wells Fargo.
Banks are neither too big to fail or too big to jail. The Justice Department needs to remember who it serves and prosecute those responsible instead of innocent homeowners.
Isaiah J. Poole contributed to this post.