Above Photo: LUCY GELLMAN PHOTO. Lt. Sharp and McEvoy share good vibes after her arrest.
Four protesters chained themselves together to block TD Bank’s doors at rush hour Tuesday and spread a Valentine’s Day message: If you love the environment, take your money elsewhere.
The demonstration took place beginning at 4:20 p.m. outside of TD Bank on Chapel Street downtown. It was part of a larger protest for which 50 or so New Haveners showed up, voicing their support for water protectors at North Dakota’s Standing Rock reservation a day after a federal judge denied a stay request from Native American Tribes trying to halt construction of the $3.7 billion, 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline.
This marks the latest of the local protesters’ divestment-geared efforts, which have included downtown rallies each month since October.
Chanting “Water is life! Water is life!” and “Can’t drink oil/ Keep it in the soil!” protesters gathered outside of the bank branch, urging its parent corporation, TD Securities, to pull its $365 million investment from the pipeline project.
As several people streamed onto Chapel with homemade signs, they made way for a sort of human contraption: four protesters, accented with pink heart-shaped signs, who had chained themselves together.
As the four came closer to the bank’s doors, they displayed their mode of connection: chains between their hands and wrists, covered with PVC-like piping and duct tape to approximate the shape of a pipeline binding them together.
Smiling, members of the group — veteran New Haven peace activists Melinda Tuhus, Victorya McEvoy, Mark Colville, and a fourth person who declined to give his name — sat on the wet sidewalk directly outside the bank, scooting back against the glass doors in the afternoon chill.
“I’m comfortable here!” joked Tuhus, who remained relatively mum as a customer then opened the door on her back, stepping over her arm-pipe to get back onto the street. As he left, Unidad Latina en Acción (ULA) organizer John Lugo joined the group briefly, helping them chain the front doors of the bank.
On the other side of Chapel Street, police had begun to gather, watching the protesters from the New Haven Green and the corner of College and Chapel streets. They crossed the street and looked on from the intersection of College and Chapel closest to the bank, waiting to see if the protesters would get up.
From inside the bank’s lobby, an employee (who would not talk to protesters or the press) held a phone to his ear, motioning outside. Another held out his phone, as if taking a photo or video.
An officer approached the door and removed the chain, allowing the protesters to stay until further notice.
As police spoke to each other, members of the group explained that they hoped to accomplish two goals: to get the bank to divest from the pipeline, and to compel current customers to join credit unions if it refuses to do so.
As they chanted and spoke, an officer stopped the flow of traffic on College Street and got use a microphone to offer three warnings to protesters in English and Spanish. Move, he said, or get arrested.
A police van had by then moved onto College Street, its doors opened. The four did not move.
As an officer issued the third warning, protesters began shouting over them, several lifting flags representing Native American tribes as they chanted. One, Edgar Sandoval, moved in closer to the protesters as if to protect them. He eyed officers who were preparing to move in.
A final warning was issued. Within seconds, officers lifted protesters—still chained together—up off of the sidewalk. Ushering free-standing protesters away, the officers moved the four to the College Street side of the bank, where they placed them on the ground and began to ask for identification.
Lt. Herb Sharp, the top patrol supervisor at the New Haven police department, directed the operation, turning a flurry of activity into an orderly police ballet. While four officers collected information from the group, a cadre of others formed a semi-circle around them, ordering reporters to stay at a distance.
The bulk of protesters outside of the bank continued to chant, lining the sidewalk as a few tried to glimpse at the cohort that had been arrested. McEvoy motioned to Attorney Patricia Kane, whom Sharp let though. Outside of the bank’s front doors, 350 Connecticut‘s Ben Martin lifted a megaphone to his lips, and kept the protest going.
Back with the four protesters, police maintained their semi-circle as Sharp spoke quietly to each of them about options, arrests, potential charges. Sharp charged the quartet with disorderly conduct and interfering with an officer, both misdemeanors.
Attorney Kane — who has publicly criticized how state police handled a Feb. 4 protest in New Haven — praised Sharp’s work Tuesday. She called it “a first-class operation in dealing with an act of civil disobedience” and said she “found his professionalism most encouraging.”
After 20 minutes and a court summons, the four were free to go. Walking down College Street towards Crown—and literally into the sunset—Colville said he viewed the action as a form of love for other people. “For Valentine’s Day!” he said.
Meanwhile, other protesters remained at the bank until close to 6 p.m. Police kept a block of Chapel Street closed across from the Green, forcing CT Transit buses to alter their route in jammed rush-hour traffic.
Returning to the corner with her arms unchained and unencumbered, McEvoy waved to the police and thanked them—then gave Sharp a squeeze on his shoulder. It was Valentine’s Day, after all.
The Dakota Access Pipeline is an underground oil pipeline backed by Dakota Access, LLC that will run, if completed, from North Dakota to southern Illinois. That path includes stretches beneath the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, as well as clean water sources and burial grounds around the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. For a map of conflicts across its 1,172 miles, click here.
The company building the pipeline says that it is thoroughly monitored and shipping crude underground is far safer than doing so by rail, trucks, or in ships. Protesters and environmentalists have disagreed, citing concerns of contaminated drinking water and disrupting historic burial grounds.
Protests at Standing Rock stretch back to late April of 2016, when Native American tribes voiced near-unanimous opposition to the pipeline’s construction. New Haveners became involved in protests months later, in mid-October of last year. By then, protests had erupted on the national level to put pressure on the outgoing Obama administration to stop construction of the pipeline. That ended temporarily on Dec. 4 of last year, the outgoing Obama administration announced that it would not grant the final easement to the pipeline.
Then in late January, just four days after his inauguration, President Donald Trump reinstated construction of both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, adding a directive to halt environmental reviews that the Obama administration had ordered. On Monday Feb. 13, a judge backed that directive, ruling against Native American tribes.