Twelve Occupy Philadelphia protesters were arrested on November 18, 2011 when they staged a sit-in inside a Wells Fargo branch to protest the company's blatantly discriminatory practices and "racist predatory lending" policies which caused a large number of home foreclosures in Philly's African American neighborhoods.
On Tuesday March 5, the Common Pleas Court jury acquitted all twelve. On top of that, Judge Nina N. Wright Padilla was eager to shake all of their hands in support and recognition. She told them, "I hope you continue your work in a law-abiding way, [and] I must say you are the most affable group of defendants I've ever come across." Further, the Jury acknowledged that the protest served a "greater good" for society that outweighed the trespass charge. This is a serious triumph for all Occupiers, activists and protesters – who recognize that their tactics may and will cross the line at times, but for the greater purposes of justice, freedom and truth. That the judge recognized this is a major coup.
"If this jury found us innocent then it must mean that Wells Fargo is guilty," said Willard R. Johnson, one of the twelve acquitted.
Indeed, last July, Wells Fargo paid $175 million to settle allegations by the U.S. Justice Department, that the brokers originating loans charged higher fees to minority borrowers than they did to white borrowers with similar credit profiles.
The initial arrests occurred during the peak of Occupy. The Wells Fargo protest – which entailed a complex confrontation between free-speech and private property rights – was the first incident in which Occupy protesters were convicted of a crime. Last June, a Municipal Court found all guilty of the trespass charge and fined each $500. However, under Philadelphia court rules, those found guilty in Municipal Court have the right to a new trial in Common Pleas Court. This time, the defense argued that the sit-in was protected by the First Amendment's free-speech guarantee, and the Jury, after debating the trial at length, agreed.