Monday, November 21, 2011

To Protect And To Serve Who, Exactly?

Bank Divestment Day passed on November 5th, but people are continuing to withdraw their funds from big banks in order to put their money in credit unions and community banks.  In the Seattle area, local credit union BECU has seen an incredible 280% increase in new membership since the beginning of Occupy Wall Street and its sister protests.

Some, unfortunately, were not able to close their accounts on the fifth.  Alexander Williamson, a dedicated supporter of Occupy Seattle, banked with Chase and wanted to make his statement about financial institutions who received bailout money.  When he went to his branch and attempted to close his account, they stalled him by saying he had to wait to ensure that no charges from Netflix were pending.

Finally, on the 14th of November, he went into a Chase location in Edmonds, Washington and attempted to close his account for a final time.  Since there was no money in the account (he had been transferring his banking slowly), the bank teller informed him that he owed a $19.99 low-balance fee-- one of the many ludicrous charges currently scaring customers away from big banks.

Alex refused to pay and refused to leave until they closed his account.  So, naturally, they called the police and attempted to have him arrested for trespassing.
I just closed an account with no money in it... and they wanted to charge me a 19.99 low funds/inactivity fee.  I refused to pay it... and they wouldn't close it... So I refused to leave.  But I was very calm and polite, with no signs or shouting.
Two police officers arrived, forced him to leave the building, and while one officer spoke with Williamson, the other spoke with the bank manager.  They determined that he was not currently breaking any laws, and let him go without detainment.

The thing is, his goal was not to cause a scene nor make any sort of statement.  He merely refused to pay a spurious and unfair fee, and received the attention of the police for his efforts.
I just went in to make a low key closure... Not trying to make a scene or even protest really. It just pissed me off so much that I kind of ended up doing that.
After the incident, Williamson finally called Chase directly and complained about the service, earning an apology from customer service, who professed to not being aware about any low balance/inactivity fees that were appropriate for his situation.

When he asked the police officer why he was being removed from the bank, he got a simple response: "We cant have you disrupting people's banking, you need to leave right now, or we'll take you in."

The question we need to ask ourselves is this: is this really what we are paying the police to do?  Who was protected?  Who was served?  And why did Williamson have to risk arrest for protesting unfair banking practices?


  1. Young people, this is the way the establishment works, in case you didn't know. Police are hired to protect the established powers, not the minor defectors from the power structure. i am 59, so i have been subject to my share of police hassles, though nothing like what is happening now. i have called on the feds to demand an end to the violence on my blog,