Charges against eight activists were dismissed in Ithaca City Court Wednesday. The four women and four men had been arrested inside the new Chase Bank in downtown Ithaca on February 13 and charged with Criminal Trespass. The dismissal came two days after JPMorgan Chase, the world’s biggest investor in fossil fuel projects, announced that it would be phasing out its funding of coal and arctic drilling. The dismissal may indicate support for Extinction Rebellion’s message that urgent action is needed to confront climate change.
Attorney Sujata Gibson, who represented the protestors as advisory council, said: “The charges levied against the defendants did not describe any crime sufficiently to continue prosecution. The people acknowledged this to be the case. On motion of the defendants, all charges were dismissed at the arraignment and the case is over.”
The arrests, which took place on Global Divestment Day , occurred as similar actions focused on Chase Bank were taking place around the world, and marked the first arrests of Extinction Rebellion activists in Ithaca. Members of Sunrise Movement and Wet’suwet’en solidarity activists also joined the protest, which literally put a stop to “business-as-usual” at the bank. The activists were insisting that Chase stop financing climate change, ecocide, and the destruction of Indigenous lives and lands around the world.Seven members of XRI had entered the bank lobby just before a planned rally began outside at noon. Those with Chase credit cards took the opportunity to shut their accounts, formally ending their relationship with Chase, and encouraging others to divest from the bank as well. Others began a conversation with the branch manager, who quickly decided to close the bank. The activists then posted notices in the windows reading “Chase Bank closed by order of Extinction Rebellion for the crime of Ecocide”.
A group of younger activists filled the ATM vestibule, while about 50 others continued the rally outside. Throughout the action, nonviolent discipline was strictly maintained in keeping with a Pledge of Nonviolence that had been agreed to by those involved. Around 4PM, about 20 police officers arrived and arrested 12 activists, 8 in the bank lobby and 4 in the ATM area. Three high school students, considered “minors”, were released to their parents without charges. The adults were processed, charged with criminal trespass, and released from custody later that evening.
Extinction Rebellion activists arrested inside the lobby are: Debbie Pittman, Sabrina Johnston, Ellen Grady, Todd Saddler, Art Weaver, Alex, and John Burger. The high school students who were detained are Maya Soto, an indigenous student from the Ara’o’cibaniku Maisi Yukayeke Guani tribal band, Clara Swartwout, Alana Craib, and Adina Wilensky.
One of the arrestees, Todd Saddler, said: “I realized that as the holder of a Chase credit card I was complicit with the crime of ecocide, that is, the destruction by humans of large areas of the natural environment. Chase Bank is the worst financer of the climate catastrophe on earth and I will no longer be an accomplice to that. Climate change is not somebody else’s problem; we are all in the same boat.”
“Even if Chase follows through on its announcement – which will only happen if we maintain public pressure – it will still remain the world’s largest funder of the climate destroying fossil fuel industry. So I take Monday’s announcement as a hopeful sign that a huge nonviolent movement can change the behavior of an institution that is committed to profiteering even at the expense of the future of our species. But it is not a sign of corporate virtue on Chase’s part, or anything like a final victory for the climate movement."
Increasing reluctance by District Attorneys to prosecute, and for judges and juries to rule against, climate activists is a sign of growing societal support for the necessity of civil resistance in the face of imminent climate and ecological breakdown. A few notable precedents include rulings in Denver, Bristol County Massachusetts, West Roxbury Massachusetts, and London.