Some crazy twists to the Occupy Indy story have emerged over
the last couple of weeks: a contentious financial document, a faction divide,
arrests and an unsuccessful Taser deployment.
On the face it, Occupy Indy looks a lot like it has over the
few weeks since it started — a rotating bunch of characters encamped at
the Indiana Statehouse, sometimes protesting with signs decrying financial
injustice or advocating individual freedom, other times huddled under the
building's eaves to stay warm in the bone-chilling rain.
Beneath the surface, though, some fractures are evident
among the various personalities that have contributed to the local occupation.
A group calling itself the Occupy legal committee issued a
statement last week announcing that the group would sever ties with Deanna
Erickson, one of two Occupy Indy participants who had been arrested during the
Another group, IndyOWS, issued a
Nov. 17 news release to "renounce the behavior of the individuals
occupying the State House lawn under the guise of Occupy Indianapolis."
The statement cites the election of leaders in "a leaderless
movement," the tolerance of violent members and suspicion of the revocable
living trust established to handle donations.
In separating from the Statehouse group, IndyOWS
vowed to work "to educate the public on corporate involvement in the
government and working towards policy change at the state level."
The legal committee's statement claimed that Erickson had
taken it upon herself to take actions on behalf of the movement without
permission from the movement. Four committee members' names were listed on the
statement, including James Kerner, the other protestor who had been arrested
and, in fact, bailed out by Erickson. Kerner later told NUVO that the
banishment of Erickson happened without his knowledge.
Erickson responded that opportunists within the movement
co-opted control of the legal committee during a poorly attended session of the
group's nightly General Assembly, the mechanism used by the group to assess its
voice and needs. The assemblies takes place every
night at 7 p.m.
"Actions that contradict the basic fundamentals and
philosophy of the movement aren't really part of the movement," Erickson
The legal committee's actions are in violation of the
group's commitment to consensus and rejection of hierarchical control
structure, she said.
In a barrage of comments responding to the legal committee's statement
statement, people lambasted the concept of
Commenter Jeramy Townsley, an Indianapolis resident who earned
5 percent of the vote as an independent-progressive candidate for the
Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council earlier this year (Democrat Joe
Smith won the seat with 81 percent voter approval), noted that no accepted provision
exists for banishment of a protest participant.
"Ironically, while they claim to be banishing Ms.
Erickson for claiming to act on the behalf of the GA but without the GA's
authority, in fact, these four individuals themselves are claiming to deliver a
ruling that was never passed by the GA, and are thus guilty of the very offense
they claim Ms. Erickson has violated," he wrote.
In a follow-up email exchange with NUVO, Townsley clarified
"The strongest measure the Occupy Indy has affirmed is
'censure' which is symbolic only and no punishment attached," he wrote.
Critics also focused on the formation of the revocable
living trust, formed to manage donations of cash and property to Occupy Indy,
with James Kerner as the sole trustee.
"No one OWNS Occupy, including Kerner and
Company," wrote commenter Lori Perdue. " (P)lease ask James Kerner
why he wants to control Occupation finances through a living trust that
empowers him and him alone instead of forming and working through a committee
process or a not-for-profit org, as is the Wall Street Model."
In response, Kerner recounted, via email, his attempts to
gain the General Assembly's support for a living trust. A proposal needs 20
votes before being enacted as an official group action.
After one blocked attempt, the GA passed Kerner's trust
proposal, he said.
"My name is on the trust because I was the only human
being bold enough to put my good name on it," he wrote. "I said,
'Here, hold me accountable if any of the funds go missing.'"
He noted that he thought greater accountability and
management of the group's finances were needed as winter approached and the
group may need to prepare for expenses such as heaters or medical care.
"It took a lot for this trust to get adopted,"
Kerner wrote. "We had to get 20 signatures notarized, two witnesses, and a
tax id number. I can only withdraw money with the approval of a 20-person
General Assembly. Right now we only have $53."
He said a second trustee would be able to access the funds
as soon as he checks in with the bank. And, he added, the Occupy Indy General
Assembly can change or dissolve the trust at any time.
On a rainy Monday night before Thanksgiving, a group of
about a dozen Occupy members stood scattered across the front steps of the
They used to be encamped beside the Capitol's south
entrance. An official cleanup resulted in the removal of the more permanent
structures that were deemed to present a threat to public safety.
Near 7 p.m., though, the mass coalesced into a line of signs
and the protesters chanted in unison — "together united will never
be divided," among others— and then broke into a call-and-repeat routine expressing general
discontent with economic inequality before calling the evening's General
Assembly to order.
Though the meeting was short, the agenda reflected the
fractured unity among the various protest contingents.
The group grappled with the challenges of technology,
including the effort to build a new website and Facebook page.
"There's a lot of slandering going on in the old
stuff," said one meeting participant. "That's not what we're about,
so we're trying to separate ourselves."
GA participants also emphasized their desire for a peaceful
protest. Several complaints — including those lobbed by IndyOWS —
report experience with violent people at various times throughout the
A few days later, though, with Erickson back at the
Statehouse and live streaming, the atmosphere heated up as the Capitol police
arrested Kerner — for the second time since the
protest started. The next day, during what she called "an ugly,
chaotic" scene following the evening's GA, her computer was stolen.
The Kerner case
Kerner's first arrest attracted the attention of Steve
Dillon, a long-time Indiana attorney and perennial Libertarian candidate for
offices such as mayor and governor.
The arrest happened on a sidewalk of the south lawn where Kerner was sheltering himself from the rain under a beach
umbrella. The large umbrella blocked the sidewalk and presented a safety
hazard, the police said in the arrest report. After several requests to remove
the umbrella, including from Indiana Office of Administration Commissioner
Robert Wynkoop, the police charged Kerner with trespassing and arrested him.
"I'm surprised (the case) made it this far,"
Dillon said in a recent interview. "I don't think refusing to take an
umbrella down in the rain is criminal trespass."
He requested a jury trial.
The second arrest took place Oct. 26. Capitol police reported
that "a large crowd of juveniles" at the bus stop near the Occupy
site had been involved in "other disturbances" throughout the
evening. The police noticed two Occupy participants "were trying to cause
trouble with juveniles."
Occupy participants, captured on the video, said they were
"trying to empower the youth."
The police report notes a police captain "approached
the subjects and advised them not to cause a problem with the juveniles and not
to interfere with the police who were trying to stop the fights and
disturbances with this group (of kids at the bus stop)."
The situation soon deteriorated. The officers report that
Kerner was running around Capitol Avenue and refusing to heed the officers
commands that he stop.
"Seeing the apparent danger, Officer McVay advised the
subject by saying, "Taser" three times before
deploying his Taser. "The Taser did not have any effect on Mr. Kerner because
only one probe hit his backpack," according to the police report.
Soon after, the police succeeded in subduing and arresting
Kerner, who, the police report, was "freed by the court on his
recognizance" at 5:47 a.m. the following day.