Carrying caskets filled with American flags and small houses, activists decrying banks’ predatory lending practices yesterday held a mock funeral in West Baltimore for “the American Dream of home ownership.”
In front of a Wells Fargo Bank branch on a stretch of North Ave. pockmarked with vacant row-homes and signs advertising foreclosure auctions, about 75 people gathered for a ceremony at times solemn and at other moments angry.
“Make Wall Street pay – move your money to a credit union,” said Mary Hill, of MoveOn.org, one of the organizers of the protest along with Good Jobs, Better Baltimore, 1199 SEIU, 32BJ SEIU and Occupy Baltimore.
“Hey, hey, ho ho, Too Big To Fail has got to go,” they chanted. A trumpeter played “Taps” and participants threw white roses into the coffins.
“Bank of America and Wells Fargo, these businesses seemingly screw people over and get them into shady loans they can’t afford,” said Kristerfer Burnett, a community organizer for Good Jobs Better Baltimore.
Burnett said the “funeral” was the beginning of a campaign by the coalition of community organizations, unions and religious groups to persuade people to move their money out of banks to protest the lending practices that led to the wave of foreclosures that has rocked the U. S. economy and spread misery to many home buyers.
“We want people to think when they do business with a big bank, ‘Where is that money going?’” Burnett said. “You have a checking account, you pay fees. But is that money going to finance a sub-prime loan? And a family is now homeless?”
One of those people who see themselves as foreclosure victims was on hand to talk about her experience.
Lavern Myrie said her family was convinced by a lender to buy a house in Florida with a jumbo mortgage “we were not prepared for and didn’t want. They told us we could afford more house than we knew we could.”
After their lender’s reassurances, they ended up with an adjustable mortgage and, after a year, their monthly mortgage payments went from $2,500 to $5,000, Myrie said. Unable to pay, the lost their house in a 2007 foreclosure and experienced the humiliation of having their belongings put out on the street. In 2010 they moved to the Baltimore area where she lives with her husband and children in a three bedroom apartment. She calls herself “cash-poor.”
Asked what she would say to someone who asked why she didn’t see it coming, Myrie said they were not dumb, they “were deceived.” And when they asked the bank to work with them and reduce their payments, she said,they refused.
“I’m a nurse, my husband is a trauma surgeon. They mislead us,” she said. “It was a scam.”