MANHATTAN (CN) – Minutes after Occupy Wall Street demonstrators pronounced Goldman Sachs executives guilty of a $78 billion fraud and perjury, police led about a dozen mock participants away from the bank’s headquarters in handcuffs.
The New York Police Department had warned protesters gathering in front of the doors of 200 West Street that they would be arrested if they did not disperse.
One organizer of the march shouted, “If you don’t want to be arrested, you should leave.”
If they did want to be arrested, she added, demonstrators should join a civil disobedience circle linking arms in front of the building.
Former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges and the anti-consumerism performance artist Rev. Billy Talen both sat in that circle, and both eventually got escorted by police to a truck around the corner of the building.
Hours earlier, Hedges delivered the opening remarks in “The People’s Hearing,” which predictably did not follow traditional courtroom procedure.
Before it began, one conscientious protester asked, “Is the defendant present?”
The heckler proffered a business card identifying himself as John Levin, the “Chieftain” of “Godless Heathens,” when Courthouse News Service asked him to state his name for the record.
Levin met the crowd’s icy stare with another question: “Come on, doesn’t anyone watch ‘Perry Mason?'”
Though counsel for Goldman Sachs did not show, Hedges pointed out that a special committee of the U.S. Senate already produced more than 600 pages of evidence in a report documenting the bank’s alleged crimes, and he argued that corrupt politicians have prevented actual criminal proceedings from happening.
“It has former officials filtered throughout the government that lavishly funds compliant politicians, including Barack Obama, who received $1 million from employees at Goldman Sachs in 2008, when he ran for president,” Hedges said. “The politicians, in return, permit Goldman Sachs to ignore securities laws that under a functioning judiciary system would see the firm indicted for felony fraud.”
He added that Bill Clinton, during his presidency, passed the Commodity Futures Modifications Act, removing oversight and outside control over the commodities.
Summarizing the Senate report, Hedges said that Goldman Sachs “unloaded billions in worthless securities” to its clients, “decimating” 401Ks, pensions and mutual funds and misleading investors that the securities were sound.
“There is no way, in the corporate state, to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs,” Hedges said. “Since the courts refuse to put on trial the senior executives of Goldman Sachs, including [CEO Lloyd] Blankfein, who carry out these crimes and then lie to cover them up, we, the people, will.”
At the end of Hedges’ argument, Princeton Professor Cornel West waxed poetic about the nature of the “People’s Hearing.”
“We gather here at this historic place, consecrated by the body, hearts, minds and souls of so many fellow citizens who courageously and with great vision decided to lift their voices as we enact and embody a deep democratic awakening,” West said. “We’re calling for rule of law, yes, but we’re also calling for a transfer of power from plutocrats to ordinary citizen and everyday people.”
Though he was not arrested at this march, West was handcuffed weeks earlier during an Occupy Wall Street march protesting the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy.
Thursday’s hearing turned to “victim” testimony in which organizers and activists “testified” on behalf of public institutions such as housing and education.
Victoria Johnson, who worked for 13 years as a community associate in New York’s education system, said she was laid off from her job along with 672 other public school support staff on Oct. 7, in what she called one of the largest layoffs in the city’s public employment history.
Her testimony was meant to support Hedges’ statement that schools should be wary when “hedge fund managers take deep interest in education.”
Weeks earlier, hedge fund tycoon and charter school donor Raj Rajaratnam was sentenced to 11 years in a federal prison for leading the largest insider trading of its kind. Former Goldman Sachs board member Rajat Gupta was recently indicted in the same alleged fraud.
At the end of the mock trial, the inevitable, prefabricated “guilty” verdict was read and delivered to Goldman Sachs’ headquarters.
“Goldman Sachs is found by the People’s Hearing held on Nov. 3, 2011 to be guilty of felony fraud, violating security laws, perjury before a Senate Commission and the theft of $78 billion in taxpayer money causing irreparable financial harm and deep distress to millions of American citizens,” the verdict read.
The dollar amount represents the U.S. Treasury’s total shortfall at the end of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Goldman Sachs, which took $10 billion in TARP funds, had lobbied heavily for the program.
Activists at the mock trial said the bank’s crimes merited restitution, interest, jail time for Blankfein and a permanent injunction barring the company from investment banking and commodities speculation.
Before being arrested, the activists inside the circle chanted, “Their accountability is our responsibility.”
Outside, the demonstrators told police, “The criminals are inside.”
One by one, officers unlinked the protesters’ arms, and tied plastic cuffs around their wrists.
The Rev. Billy shouted “Hallelujah!” during his arrest.
Hedges stayed silent and flashed a smile.
The crowd dispersed after police carted away the protesters in the circle, with some waving goodbye to the building and chanting, “We’ll be back.”