One of the most inspiring recent actions against banks was pulled off by a group of students and faculty at the University of California, at Davis (UC Davis). Every day for two months, they sat in front of the entrance of a U.S. Bank branch in their student union. Last February the bank closed its doors and left the UC Davis campus for good. But, in a gesture intended to send a chill down the spine of student activists, a dozen of them — dubbed the ‘Davis Dozen’ — are now being criminally charged and face potential sentences of up to 11 years in jail and $1-million in fines. Will this scare students enough to stop an escalation of bank occupations on campus? Or will the systemic corruption recently revealed at the heart of global banking spur students everywhere on?
Samara Steele sends this dispatch from Davis:
The courtroom was filled to capacity last Friday, as the Davis Dozen and their legal team filed a motion to allow the court access to personnel records of university police officers involved with the case, under the premise of police misconduct.
The Davis Dozen are students and faculty of the University of California, at Davis (UC Davis), who have been charged with obstructing a corporate bank branch on their campus.
U.S. Bank opened a branch in the UC Davis student union last fall. As part of the bank’s aggressive marketing strategy, students were issued new ID cards that doubled as debit cards.
Many blame the banks for their role in the nationwide increase in university tuition and fees.
“The only way the fee hikes are possible is because of predatory loans,” one student explained. “Basically, the university is selling its students to banks.”
In the last 4 years, UC Davis students have seen their tuition rates almost double, while tuition has gone up 15% at public universities nationwide. The average American university student now leaves college with over $25,000 in student debt.
Private lenders have capitalized on the tuition hikes. U.S. Bank, for example, offers private student loans with interest rates as high as 10.95%.
In a statement made by the Davis Dozen on their website:
“Today, total student loan debt stands at over a trillion dollars—a sum larger than the total credit card debt. Unless we can stop it, this debt is our future. Our wages will belong to the bank until the day we die.”
On February 28th of this year, following protests by students and faculty, the U.S. Bank branch closed its doors and left the UC Davis campus.
The bank blamed has blamed its closure on the protests, and has threatened to sue the University for failing to discipline students and educators who resisted the bank’s presence.
In March, at the university’s request, the Yolo County District Attorney charged twelve students and educators with 21 counts of misdemeanor, including conspiracy charges. They face up to 11 years in prison and $1 million in fines.
Many of the twelve defendants were pepper-sprayed by University Police while protesting tuition hikes in November, in an act of police brutality that garnished international attention.
According to records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, most of the police officers involved with the charges against the Davis Dozen were on duty during the pepper spray incident.
The university police in Davis have gained a reputation for brutality against students.
In 2004, Timothy Nelson, a former student of UC Davis, was permanently injured after being shot in the eye with a pepperball by a university police officer.
Pepperballs are essentially paintballs filled with pepper spray, a military-grade chemical weapon outlawed during the 1977 Geneva Convention.
On Friday, the Davis Dozen and their legal team filed a Pitchess Motion, which alleges that the officers in the case used excessive force or lied about events surrounding the defendants’ arrest. This will give the court access to the officers’ records, allowing the defense to confirm that these officers previously engaged in excessive force against defendants.
Among the Davis Dozen is acclaimed poet Joshua Clover, who teaches English at UC Davis. Clover is a two-time winner of the Pushcart Prize, and his first book of poetry, Madonna anno domini, received the Walt Whitman award from the Academy of American Poets.
The Davis Dozens’ pro bono legal team includes Tony Serra, the civil rights lawyer who famously defended Black Panther leader Huey P. Newton. Serra, who has taken on a number of high-profile political cases, has also taken on a vow of poverty. He is known for living a frugal lifestyle and buying all of his clothes secondhand. He was the subject of the 1989 film True Believer.
The next Davis Dozen court date has been set for August 24th, 2012.
To learn how to support the Davis Dozen: http://davisdozen.org/