About 40 people, many holding signs and chanting, marched from Bushnell Park to the Bank of America branch on Main Street Friday as part of the "Occupy Hartford" movement.
The protesters stood in front of the bank in the rain chanting "Banks got bailed out; we got sold out" and "Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Bank of America's got to go." They beat drums and shook tambourines as they chanted.
"Banks are a major problem, especially for low-income people," said Mary L. Sanders of Hartford. "People don't get bailed out when they have a mortgage to pay."
Demonstrators expressed concerns over foreclosure rates, fees imposed by the bank, and what they described as "predatory lending."
"They preyed upon poor folks, people of color," said Chris Doucot of Hartford, referring to the banks. "These banks offered mortgages, saying people could afford them when in fact they couldn't. Now you have all these [minority] families losing their homes."
Barbara Sarmento said she is fed up with corporate greed.
"It's ridiculous that so many people share so little money," she said Friday. "Corporations are not people. The system seems broken."
After about 20 minutes of picketing outside the bank, protesters weaved back through the city's downtown and ended their march at the corner of Farmington Avenue and Broad Street, a plot of land commonly known as Turning Point Park. People involved in "Occupy" have camped out overnight at the park since Oct. 7.
Earlier Friday, Daniel Loos, the city's director of licenses and inspections, visited Turning Point Park and handed out letters notifying demonstrators that they were violating the municipal code and zoning code by camping out overnight on city-owned land.
Loos said the letter was meant to inform protesters that they were violating ordinances, but it did not contain any information about when they should leave the park. City spokeswoman Sarah Barr said Friday that discussions between city officials and protesters were ongoing, and the city had no deadline for when it would enforce the ordinances.
According to the city's zoning code, "camping and picnicking is not allowed in the B-2 zoning district" - which includes Turning Point Park. Loos said demonstrators must obtain a special event permit to remain on the land.
"I handed out a letter of advisement that says you're in violation of this section of zoning regulations. It's just giving them warning that they're in violation," Loos said. "We're not telling [them] at this moment to vacate."
Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts said Friday that the protesters "will not be given preferential treatment," but that the city has "no plans to forcibly remove" them at this point.
"Although we are still engaging in cooperative dialogue, those individuals who are a part of Occupy Hartford must understand that they are required to comply with the rules and that they are in violation of the city of Hartford Zoning Regulations," he said.
Some members of the group have suggested coming up with an end date for the sleep-in, or overnight camping, at Turning Point Park. But others have said it is too soon.
"We haven't set an end date," Sanders said Friday. "There are still things we want to accomplish before we set an end date. We want it to happen organically.
"We're not going to resolve the nation's woes in a month or two, but we want to see some policy changes here."
The movement began planning in Hartford two weeks ago. More than 60 people attended a meeting on Oct. 2 at the Charter Oak Cultural Center, participants said, and several Facebook pages have been formed to support Occupy Hartford.
On Oct. 5, about 70 people gathered at Bushnell Park in the morning, and 70 met at night to discuss what kind of protest might unfold in Hartford. The group has held planning meetings almost daily since then.
Several members of the "Occupy" group plan to attend a march and rallies on Sunday, which are being organized by a local organization that opposes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At least one member of "Occupy" plans to speak at the rallies. The first rally will begin at city hall at 2 p.m. Demonstrators will then march to the state Capitol, where a second rally will be held afterward.
Staff writer Steven Goode contributed to this story.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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