“Trinity Wall Street could be the moral gate
Wall Street and Main Street.”
- OCCUPY TRINITY WALL STREET: OVERVIEW
Since June 8th the sidewalk in front of Trinity Wall Street (TWS) has been location central for prophetic witness. People affiliated with Occupy Wall Street (OWS), calling themselves Occupy Trinity Wall Street (OTWS) are occupying that doorstep 24 hours a day.
At least 4 and as many as 60 people are sleeping on the street -an activity completely legal in New York City and protected by the U.S. Constitution. These men and women bear witness to the inequities wrought by the greed of Wall Street calling attention to a deformed capitalism that does not respect the dignity of every human being but looks on all Creation as a source of personal profit and production. For Episcopalians the significance of this sleep-in is sacramental. Yet rather than welcome the presence of these prophets or offer any kindness, TWS has harassed, humiliated, and sent protesters and homeless youth to jail and the hospital. This was done in the name of the Episcopal Church, notably with the tacit acceptance of the Diocese of NY.
- HOW IT STARTED: D17
When OWS was violently rousted in November, 2011 from the encampment at Zuccotti Park/Liberty Square, it lost a home. People were fed, educated, and community was being built. A national voice of outrage was embodied. A new vision of democracy was evolving–inclusive and horizontal-it was oriented towards peace, justice, and mutual aid. Without a home, OWS would have a difficult time working on this vision. OWS approached Trinity Wall Street, particularly CEO/Rector James Cooper, in December to discuss the possibility of occupying one of its many Man-hattan real estate assets–a vacant lot on Canal Street and 6th Avenue known as Duarte Square. Like the time when St. Paul’s Chapel was a sanctuary for recovery workers after attacks on the World Trade Towers, Trinity Wall Street, by destiny, was at another a nexus of history.
Reverend Earl Koopercamp crossing the ladder into Duarte Square on D17.
Encouraged by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges, retired Bishop George Packard was asked to facilitate dialog between OWS and TWS. With the exception of token gestures, CEO/Rector Cooper would not enter into discussion. OWS was told ground would be bro-ken on a new building in May, 2012. OWS gathered support from the local Community Board and residents surrounding Duarte Square; made plans for a healthy encampment; and promised it would move out when ground was broken in May. Several members of the OWS community went on a hunger strike to call attention to this prophetic moment and a need for sanctuary. TWS and CEO/Rector Cooper only answered with a corporate line about plans for private property.
Hunger strikers Malory Butler (19-year-old ballet student) & Diego Ibanez, with supporter Elliot Figman on Day 15 of the hunger strike. Mr. Ibanez was a critical organizer for Hurricane Sandy relief, spear-heading a volunteer corps that served over 5,000 hot meals a day in addition to other forms of relief.
On December 17th (D17) OWS gathered near Duarte Square for a celebration. A number of people climbed a ladder and trespassed. It was clearly street theater and civil disobedience – Santa Claus and Miss America were first over the ladder. One bishop, three Episcopal priests, a nun, and two Catholic priests were arrested with others.
Unfortunately some attending clipped wires on the fencing, committing vandalism. Few of the 52 trespassers who were arrested, tried, and prosecuted at the insistence of TWS committed any vandalism. The majority of vandals ran away when the NYPD appeared.
That day the fence was pushed down on the crowd outside the no trespassing zone by the NYPD while other officers kettled the crowd from the street side, thus terrorizing observers.People who were exercising First Amendment rights were beaten up by the NYPD in the name of TWS and by extension the Diocese of NY. was the only defendant who is Muslim, born in Pakistan. Adams joined OWS after his home went into foreclosure.
OTWS began in response to Mark Adams being sentenced to 45 days on Riker’s Island. After rallies, vigils, and teach-ins themed around “Forgive Us Our Trespasses”, Jack Boyle, a D17 defendant, initiated the occupation/sleep-in. The occupation gained momentum when Adams began serving his time in prison on Riker’s Island.
Parishioners at TWS were told Adams’ sentence was related to offenses other than trespassing on the vacant lot. However court records show that Adams went to prison solely at the in-sistence of an Episcopal parish in the Diocese of NY.
Adams served time in the heat of July just as General Convention made resolutions to increase ministry to those in prison and while the 5 Marks of Mission were embraced as a standard to move missionally forward in the 21st century.
As of this writing no one behind bars because of TWS has been visited by Episcopal clergy to include the primary colluder with the NYPD and DA, CEO/ Rector Cooper. No offer of shelter or of psychological counseling have been proffered despite TWS’s considerable assets.
- Duarte Square actually is a parcel of land under ownership dispute for over a century. Descendants of the Welsh pirate Robert Edwards claim the land was given to Edwards by Queen Anne as a reward for his service. The family leased Trinity Church the land – it was not returned.
Instead of the vibrant community dedicated to teach-ins, democracy, and mutual aid, Duarte remains a vacant lot with food trucks parked during the work week and locked up on weekends. Ground was never broken for construction.
Whose land? Royalty deeded Trinity Church the land for its empire just 75 years after the Lenape were the residents of Manhattan.
Collaborating with the District Attorney’s office, TWS and CEO/Rector Cooper began work on prosecuting the trespassers to the full extent of the law. During the course of the most visible trial (held June 10 -21) it became evident that Trinity Real Estate, its CEO Cooper and staff enjoyed a cozy relationship with the NYPD as well as the DA’s office. For example, vans of police in full riot gear were parked at the ready for 5 hours in ad-vance to arrest people for “possible trespass”. Will Gusakov, a master car-penter who designed and built the ladder but did not trespass, was arrested blocks away from Duarte Square and put on trial . One of the ways taxpayer money paid for protection of Trinity Wall Street’s private assets.At the end of the trial, one defendant, Mark Adams, was sent to jail.
Trial for trespassing, l. to r. Mark Adams, Jack Boyle, Bishop George Packard in the courtroom, photo copyright Tracie Williams
Trials continue today – most recently for Charles Meyers and Felix Rivera-Pitre – TWS’s accusations compounding on other “infractions” and generating prison records for young men and women based on in-flated charges. The OWS community has a well – organized, dedicated group who visit those in prison, write them, and pro – vide support. On release, the OWS community finds them shelter mostly in the form of couch surfing and facilitates access to social workers and therapists who donate time.
NYPD protect TWS real estate
A core group of people have been occupying for over 6 months. These include Fathema Nusrat Sha’didi, a street medic who found refuge and rest at St. Paul’s Chapel after the traumatic recovery work in the smoking remains of the World Trade Center; Ed Mortimer, a street medic, and Jack Boyle both defendants in the D17 trespassing trial.
They are joined by a diverse community which includes people with regular jobs sleeping when they can, traveling activists, and most notably homeless youth seek refuge there. The latter group finds a haven safer than in shelters and get a sense of being part of a greater cause. All who pass by note the irony in Trinity’s slogan—”For a world of good”. Some are there because this church sits at the top of Wall Street, the epicenter of capitalism at its most cancerous stage. Those same passers by know this story, noting the church as complicit by its silence with the toll taken by a culture of greed.
A careless disregard for the young, sensitive population was featured on September 23 when alcohol was served to these minors. CEO/Rector Cooper said casually “I hope everyone’s of age!” Bryan Parsons, TWS staff was observed one night in August, intoxicated, trading alcohol for cigarettes among the youth.
Representatives from TWS, such as clergy Matt Heyd, straight-faced recites NYC code requiring hosing down of the sidewalk twice a day. However, the second hosing was not initiated until September—three months after the sleep-in began. Heyd will also tell you it is NYC code to drill holes in scaffolding to prevent standing water. Holes were drilled on October 21st, long after the summer heat when standing water would offer a potential breeding ground for mosquitoes. At press release, Heyd was not available for further comment. TWS staff defends the practice of maximizing profitsthrough luxury apartment development at the expense of small business and middle and working class families through TWS’s charitable work overseas, inspiring the street chant Trinity Church you look so pretty, but you do nothing for New York City. Throughout the heat of summer, rain and snow, beatings and harassment from the NYPD, no clergy have offered a drink of water, a bathroom to use, or sanctuary in any form. During Hurricane Sandy OTWS found safety among the greater OWS community. After the November snowfall those occupying TWS sent out word that they needed warm clothes. Meanwhile, TWS proudly Tweeted a video of one of its priests delivering clothes to those in the vicinity but not to those huddled in front of the church. TWS will cite Charlotte’s Place as a resource. However OWS can get free internet at dozens of locations. Charlotte’s Place is limited in many ways, to include that it is only open Monday through Friday from Noon to 2PM.
Need doesn’t punch a time clock.
Trinity Wall Street Church has over $10 billion in real estate assets through Trinity Reeal Estate Corporation. Contemporary theologians have presented TWS as an institution in spiritual crisis and a reflective moment for us all. Is the church owner or steward of its assets? What is the Christian interpretation of private property? Since the church enjoys tax-free status what is its responsibility to the greater non-church community? How do the Diocese of New York and Trinity Wall Street Church practically plan to employ their assets to support the Five Marks of Mission? The gospel tells us that people are more important than profits. Is it ethical for TWS and the Diocese of New York to develop their property for luxury apartment rentals in a city where affordable housing is scarce?
The Five Marks of Mission – The mission of the church is the Mission of Christ
- Proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
- Teach, baptize and nurture new believers
- Respond to human need by loving service
- Seek to transform unjust structures of society
- Strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth