Protesters oppose banks funding private prisons

By RACHEL JUIENG | February 21, 2019

Protestors representing the Families Belong Together coalition participated in a demonstration called “Valentine’s Day Playdate and Protest #breakupwithprivateprisons” on Feb. 14 outside of the Wells Fargo in downtown Baltimore. Though the demonstration was supposed to last 12 and a half hours, police arrived to break up the protest after about 30 minutes.

Families Belong Together is a coalition of 250 organizations that are working to end family separation and detention. 

Protest organizer Aimée Pohl works as the outreach and operations associate for Jews United for Justice and as a senior digital campaigner for Democracy Initiative. 

Pohl spoke about why the organizers of the event chose to protest Wells Fargo, as well as other major banking chains. Along with Wells Fargo, demonstrators protested JP Morgan Chase because both banks fund the GEO Group and CoreCivic, two of the largest operators of private prisons and immigrant detention centers. 

“Wells Fargo is making billions of dollars investing in private detention centers — GEO Group and CoreCivic — which have incarnated children and families at the border, where children have been separated from their families, sexually abused and died. They are making money off [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] ICE policies, and we are urging people to move their money away from Wells Fargo,“ Pohl said. “It is inhumane to make money off caging children. Their complicity must be shown and protested.”

Protestors demonstrated inside the Wells Fargo bank on 7 St. Paul Street. The branch manager requested assistance from the Baltimore Police Department to remove the demonstrators from the bank. Afterward, the doors for entering and exiting the bank were locked and guarded by bank employees.

Protesters claimed that they decided to enter the bank to request that the bank send letters they had written to immigrant families.

Pohl addressed the removal of protestors from the bank. She also emphasized that this specific Wells Fargo was chosen because of its influence in Baltimore. 

“We weren’t allowed to deliver the letters or even tell [the bank] why we were here because they locked the doors immediately and called the police,” Pohl said. “We chose Wells Fargo because it is partially responsible for thousands of abandoned houses in Baltimore as part of the sub-prime mortgage crash. Wells Fargo is not only responsible for treating children at the border horribly — they’re treating children and the people of Baltimore horribly.”

Instead of supporting JPMorgan and Wells Fargo, the protestors advocated for the use of credit unions.

Natalia Skolnik, a Baltimore Corps Fellow who works with Community Law In Action as the director of school-based programming, attended the protest with her children. She reiterated her support for immigrant families and sympathized with their plight because of her Jewish heritage. 

“All families deserve to give their kids a shot at living, and it’s absolutely horrific, it’s awful, what we’re allowing corporations to do. If more people stood up to their government and corporations when the writing was on the wall during World War II, I think history would have come out differently. Not as many people would been senselessly murdered,” Skolnik said.

Skolnik stated that she felt she was obligated to stand up to these corporations and that she hopes other families will do the same.

“Even if we don’t speak the same language, all families, all citizens... should stand up for other families. As a former teacher, I think it’s important to stand up for children to be in safe spaces,” she said. 

Pohl emphasized that the protest is an important piece of the national movement against ICE following the separation of families at the border.

“This is happening in cities across the country. This is a national movement; we need to put pressure on ICE from all different areas whether it’s Hopkins’ contracts, whether it’s Wells Fargo contracts, whether it’s ICE directly. The pressure has to come from everywhere, because this is a crisis that is continuing,” she said. 

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