Over the weekend, as Occupy Wall Street protests escalated, the video of a woman arrested at a Citibank branch for trying to close her account shot through the blogosphere. It wasn’t even the only example of people being denied the opportunity to close their bank accounts over the weekend. A Bank of America branch in Santa Cruz refused customer request to close their accounts in the same way, with the manager telling customers, “You can’t be a customer and a protester at the same time.”
This could be chalked up to some overzealous bank managers overreacting to protests. But a similar thing happened two months ago in St. Louis. Back in August, the group Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (“MORE”), a bank accountability group, held a protest at a Bank of America branch in St. Louis. About 50 people went to the branch to peacefully close their accounts. How did the BofA branch react to this?
Under these circumstances, there would seem to be two approaches that a bank might take to the upcoming protest:
1) Invite the protestors to come into the bank to withdraw their money, as long as they didn’t disturb other bank customers. A bank might even invite the protesters to briefly sit down with bank officials, so that the protesters could air their grievances face-to-face. Bank of America did not choose this alternative. Rather, it choose #2.
2) Bank of America assumed that the protesters would commit criminal acts, called in a police riot squad, blocked the protestors from entering the bank to withdraw their own money, and ignored the protesters’ concerns about the bank’s overall behavior.
They chose number 2. That’s right, they brought in riot police and refused the group entry into the branch to take out their own money.
This is just going to escalate. On November 5, a mass national action is planned, with people around the country encouraged to move their money. We saw the reaction to spontaneous actions this weekend, and the reaction to a planned action – riot police and all – back in August. Surely the banks know about November 5. Who knows what they will prepare?
This is why Rep. Brad Miller wants to make it easier for customers to close their accounts. The steps being taken to stop undesirable “protesters” from dealing with their own money are really over the top.