After the police evicted the Occupy Wall Street encampment at Liberty Plaza last fall, occupiers quickly worked to find another location. Duarte Square, another privately-owned public space at the intersection of Canal and 6th Avenue, seemed like the perfect location. Occupiers met with the Lower Manhattan Council and Community Board Two. They drew up architectural plans for a temporary use of the space. They had the community’s approval.
But not from its owners, Trinity Church, the largest landowner in New York City.
Over sixty people were arrested at Duarte on December 17th, or #d17, its hashtag on Twitter. Eight are facing Class B Misdemeanors charges, including Bishop Packard, a member of the clergy, and Jack Doyle, a man now on a hunger- and HIV-medication strike. If convicted, they will face a maximum of 90 days in prison. One person faces two other charges: attempted criminal mischief in the 4th degree and attempt of crime with possession of burglar’s tools.
Trinity Church publicly posted that “Trinity Church is not seeking retribution or punishment as a result of the OWS actions of December 17th at Duarte Square…requesting that non-criminal dispositions without fines or incarceration be granted to all.” Gideon Oliver, the President of the National Lawyer’s guild, called the statement quite misleading, and as the trial has progressed, we have seen how intertwined Trinity is with the NYPD and with private security firms.
The key witness in the case is Amy Jedlicka, Trinity Church’s lawyer. Earlier in the week, Gothamist reported that the three police officers who testified “claimed to have had a personal conversation with Amy Jedlicka during which they were told the property was private. Yet not one of them was able to recall when they spoke with her, the specifics of their conversation.”
In court yesterday, the defense attorneys petitioned Judge Sciarrino to force Trinity to comply with the subpoena. Said Martin Stolar, “Amy Jedlicka, the mouthpiece for Trinity, hasn’t complied with the subpoena. She was the recipient of the subpoena.”
Bishop Packard, the first clergy member over the fence at Duarte, is expected to testify today.
“What a statement it would have been for this church at the top of Wall Street to give refuge and succor to this passionate group of people who have put their finger on the fact that there is no fairness in contemporary life,” Bishop Packard told the New York Times. “I’d like to have Trinity talk about why they act like a corporation and not a church.”
Stolar, an NLG defense attorney said yesterday that “Bishop Packard knows the church, the way the church is supposed to operate. Forgiveness should be in Trinity’s soul but it’s not there. He’ll testify on what was going on in his head when he was thinking of going over the fence.”
“Trinity should have cooperated and let them use the space before they built their residential towers, which wasn’t going to happen for a couple years,” continued Stolar. “There was no harm. They alienated the community.”
Defense attorneys are expected to begin their begin their arguments today but Jack Boyle, one of the defendants was arrested last night in a Solidarity march with striking Quebecois students and had not been released yet.
Judge Sciarrino is infamously known as the “Facebook judge” for having been caught posting on his Facebook while trials are in session. He was banished from Staten Island to Manhattan.
“It’s hard to feel like the judge hasn’t already made a decision,” said one occupier yesterday.
“I remember him saying he wouldn’t be ‘prince of darkness-harsh.'” said Gideon Oliver. “This judge has indicated in the past that he is not known for being light on sentencing. That’s his own representation. If there are convictions there will be sentences greater than what we’re used to in normal protests case but we hope for the better.”
Trinity Church has come under fire recently for its business model. It sees $200 million in profits annually from its commercial properties. Trinity’s Rector Cooper had a $1.3 million compensation package in 2010. It closed its homeless shelter in 2009, yet it overspent its music budget by $800,000 in 2011. Its vestry includes Brookfield Properties and Citibank. That said, Trinity also helped many occupiers during the Zuccotti Park days.
Take a look at Trinity’s history as the largest landowner in New York City, as documented in the New York Times archives.
TRINITY’S SHADOWY HISTORY
An article questioned Trinity’s relationship to money and power. It continued by quoting the Roman poet Horace, “quaerenda pecunia primum est; virtos post numnos,” roughly translated to “obtaining money is the first aim, character comes second.”
“If a man, who has a soul, gains importance as he gains wealth, how much more reasonably may a corporation, that has no soul, claim public consideration by reason of its riches. Trinity Church, for a century and a half always a prominent object in the eyes of the people of New York, is now more than ever so; and, whatever may be the proximate cause of the renewed agitation of which she is the subject, its main spring and primal motive power must be sought in her money-bags. It is the omnipotence of the dollar.”
A man sued Trinity Church, saying “they have neglected to provide for the poor of the parish while pampering the pride of the worldly-minded and laying up treasures on earth in bonds and mortgages held on Episcopal churches.”
Trinity Church was for publicly denounced for not keeping up its tenement housing. Like many other tenements at the time, conditions in Trinity’s properties were called “deplorable” and “not fit for human habitation.”
“The trouble with Trinity is simply inertia. Like other old estates in new York, it has been so rich as not to feel under any necessity for improving its income. To use a popular expression, it has ‘had money to burn.’ This is not an uncommon experience among the proprietors of these immense old landed estates in this city.”
Trinity came under fire for overestimating the number attendees in order to justify paying expensive salaries.
NYU and Trinity were cited for charging exorbitant rents.
“Mayor La Guardia denounced New York University and the real estate holding company of Trinity Church yesterday as rent gougers that are asking exorbitant increases in rentals of commercial properties under their ownership or control.”
(As a side note, NYU is currently has the highest student debt total in the United States.)
“Trinity Reveals Finances in Detail
“The details were given, Dr. Fleming explained, to clear up a “prevalent misunderstanding’ that the church’s income is far greater than its obligations.”
That’s as far as we got. I’m sure there’s more. Many have said “get the money out of politics.” It’s probably a good idea to get the money (and the politics) out of the church too.