Stephen Benavides, an organizer with the United Steelworkers, was one of eight arrested Saturday at the Occupy Dallas protest at the downtown Bank of America tower during Bank Transfer Day, aimed at encouraging the use of not-for-profit credit unions over for-profit banks.
But while the other protesters were jailed on the misdemeanor charge of "improper use of a sidewalk" (Schutze: WTF?), Benavides was charged with assaulting a public servant and resisting arrest. We first wrote about him back in 2009 when he served as the chair at UNT's ACLU student chapter, pushing to allow same-sex couples to run for homecoming court. He bonded out Wednesday on the felony charge, and he spoke Thursday afternoon with Unfair Park about what he says was supposed to be a peaceful protest gone very, very wrong.
"When we left that day, the intention was not to have a confrontation with the police," he says. "When everything happened, it was just a complete shock."
Occupy protestors were to link up with folks from MoveOn and march together to the Bank of America tower. When they left City Hall, Benavides says, many were in the street, but police forced them back onto the sidewalk. In front of the tower, the planter was a natural platform. They were "prepping to have a speaker come up and speak and were doing mic check."
But they were approached by someone in uniform -- someone who, in the newly surfaced video that follows, appears to be a security guard. "He said, 'Get your ass off the planter!' And I said, "Who are you talking to?,'" Benavides recalls. "Soon as I said that, he shoved me from the planter into the street."
He claims he pointed to the man who shoved him from the planter and told nearby officers to "arrest that MF up there for assault." It was at that point, he says, that a Dallas Police officer tried to take his union flag and the two struggled over it.
"I didn't want to let them have it." Video footage of the scuffle indeed shows Benavides wresting the flagpole from the officer's grasp, as another appears to lose his balance and goes sprawling (helmeted) headfirst into the curb (that is, of course, open to interpretation).
Benavides fled. "I decided to remove myself from the situation." He descended a set of stairs behind the planter, and that's when he says roughly three police officers surrounded him. "They threw punches and knees," he says. "My ribs are busted up pretty bad."
He denies assaulting any officer or resisting arrest; he didn't know the police intended to arrest him when went down the stairs, he says.
"I did resist police trying to take the flag from me," he says. "After that, I didn't have much chance to resist. There were two or three cops."
Afterward, Benavides says, the protestors were kept in a police van for an hour and a half in the sally port, marinating in pepper spray. It was four days before he was able to post more than $50,000 for bond on the felony charge.
"The Dallas Police Department and the city are trying to get people to focus on the violent aspect as a diversionary tactic," he says, "because they're the ones who initiated the violence."
A professional organizer, he worries now that the charges will provide police with ample pretext to re-arrest him. "If you don't call that an attempt to chill political activity, I don't know what is," he says.
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As for Occupy Dallas and its tenure on the City Hall lawn, he isn't hopeful: "At some point soon, [Mayor Mike] Rawlings and [City Manager Mary] Suhm are gonna be done with it and they'll shut us down."
We should find out today: Occupy Dallas and city attorneys are due in court at 1 p.m.
Update at 10:16 p.m.: This just arrived in the in-box from Benavides concerning a march downtown, scheduled to begin today at 1:30 and end at Dallas City Hall at around 2. It reads, in full:
"OCCUPY THE HOOD" MARCH AND DEMONSTRATION
On November 5, 2011 an off duty Dallas Police Officer, Jay Hollis, working private security for Bank of America attacked me with violence in order to suppress political speech, the right to peaceable assembly, as well as to send a message to those who would challenge the elite.
Occupy The Hood, a separate variation of the international Occupy Movement centered in Dallas, TX has called a march to bring to the front lines, those who now represent the majority. There is no 99% without the 'Hood, and no movement is legitimate that does not take into account those issues most prevalent in the southern sector of Dallas, and other similarly economically oppressed communities.
These issues include police brutality, police terrorism, economic oppression, new age slavery through the prison industrial complex, and under representation through our broken democratic processes.
Occupy The Hood will be marching from JFK Memorial Plaza today starting at 1:30pm, ending at Dallas City Hall at approximately 2pm. At this point we will have a series of speakers, of which I am one. Here, in the most appropriate context will I make my statement regarding the attacks by Dallas Police and the Bank of America on peaceful non-violent protesters on November 5, 2011.