This should have been a low key human interest story about a customer closing their personal and business bank accounts in response to Citizens Bank’s investment in oil pipelines across the country, including DAPL. Instead, this story is about something else entirely, as you will see.
But I don’t want to lose sight of M Feibelman’s important action here. Moving their money to a credit union is a strong moral statement, and one that should be the front and center of this story. I was honored to be asked to accompany them as they went to Citizens to close their accounts. You can close your account too: #ShameOnCitizens
Also coming along for support was Anusha, who held a sign that said:
Stop funding violence against indigenous people
#NoDAPL #NoBayouBridge #NoTransPecos
After recording the video above with M outside the bank, we entered One Citizens Plaza. There is a bank inside the building on the first floor, so we went inside and sat down.
A bank officer began processing M’s request with the utmost politeness and professionalism. The transactions were almost done when a man entered the waiting area and said, to M, Anusha and me, “Okay folks, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
“Me?” I asked.
“Well, all three of you, yeah,” said the man.
“They’re in the middle of a transaction, and I’m with them,” I said, referring to M.
This lead to some confusion as the man, who I was later told by the police was the head of security for One Citizens Plaza, spoke to the bank officer, confirming that the reason for all of us being there was perfectly legitimate.
Having processed this new information, the man turned to me and Anusha. “Now, are you both closing out accounts as well?”
“No. I’m with them,” I replied, pointing once more to M. Anusha also said she was there to accompany M.
“Okay, if you could wait outside I’d appreciate that.”
“Outside this room here?” I asked.
“Yeah. Just outside please. In the lobby. That would great,” he said.
“Is there a particular reason why that is?” I asked.
“It’s their transaction,” said the man, gesturing towards M.
“I know,” I said, “but is there a reason I can’t sit in a chair that’s for the public?”
“No,” said the man, exasperated now, “It’s not public. Are you an account holder with Citizens?
“I am, actually,” I replied truthfully.
“Okay. All right. Fantastic.”
“So I can sit here,” I said, satisfied.
“Um, sure. You’re not conducting a transaction though…”
“No,” I replied, feeling like I was trapped in an infinite loop. “I’m with them. Would you make another friend of theirs stand outside too?”
“Absolutely,” he answered, “It’s their transaction.”
“I don’t mind he’s here,” said M. In fact, they had invited me to come along.
“So you only allow one person in the bank at a time?” I asked, “This is the policy here?”
“Sir, I’m not trying to cause a problem,” said the man.
“I think you are trying to cause a problem,” I replied, since only a minute ago there had been absolutely no problems in the room at all.
“Absolutely not,” he said.
“I don’t understand why you would ask people to leave a place of business who are not…”
“You’re not here conducting business…” interrupted the man from Citizens.
“He’s with me,” said M.
“I’m with them!” I said, “What, people can’t come in together to do business, they have to come in one at a time? I don’t understand. That’s never been…
“We can regulate that, yes,” said the man.
“Yeah,” I said, “That’s the policy of this bank then, that only one person is allowed, groups of people have to wait outside…
“I’m not here to discuss the policy of the bank.”
“I would like to know what the policy of the bank is,” I said.
“You can inquire about that after…”
“I’m inquiring about that now,” I interrupted, “What is the policy of the bank regarding people accompanying friends while they do business in the bank? Is it the policy of the bank that they have to wait outside? I just want to know that for future reference.”
“You can contact our legal team and they can answer that for you,” said the man.
“Shouldn’t you know the policy before you’re kicking people out?” asked Anusha.
“I’m not kicking anybody out,” said the man, in what must be the most severe case of cognitive dissonance I’ve ever encountered. “I’m asking him to kindly wait in the lobby.”
“And you’re asking her as well, right?” I asked, referring to Anusha.
“There is a polite way of asking…” said Arusha, which made me laugh.
“No no no no…” said the man, “If I were kicking you out I would have come in with the officers. I’m not doing that.
“I’m asking you to kindly wait in the lobby.”
“I don’t see any reason to wait in the lobby while this transaction happens,” I said, “I don’t understand what this is. I don’t understand why you’re making this request and I’d love to know…
At this point a cashier interrupted, from behind the bank counter. “I’m at work and you’re recording me and that’s inappropriate,” she said.
“Oh!” said the man, suddenly somehow vindicated, “What is he…”
“He’s recording me on his phone!” said the cashier. This was ridiculous, since I had my Nikon camera around my neck and I was only taking pictures of M and Anusha, and being quite obvious about it when I did so.
“I’m not recording you on this phone,” I said.
“I sell cellphones for a living…” she replied, which seemed beside the point to me. I also felt bad, because Citizens is obviously not paying its bank employees enough if they also have to work selling cellphones.
Somehow, though, I was on the defensive, because of the cashier’s made up accusation. “This phone isn’t on, so that’s completely bullshit,” I said.
Acting like he had something on me, the man from Citizens said, “Did you record…
“I did not record with this phone at all,” I said, “I did take some pictures of my friends…”
“Thanks! So I am going to ask you to leave…”
“You’re going to ask me to leave because of this?” I asked, gesturing to my camera.
“It is against our policy,” said the man, “It’s actually against state law to take pictures…”
“No it is actually NOT against the law to take pictures,” I said, “That’s ridiculous. You know that as well as I do. I am going to walk out to the lobby, though.”
“If you take pictures of me I’m going to prosecute,” said the cashier as I left.
“Have fun prosecuting whatever,” I said.
I walked out into the lobby of Citizens Plaza, followed by the Man from Citizens, where two uniformed Providence Police Officers were waiting. Anusha and M were still inside the bank.
“Hi,” I said to the officers.
“Can I see your license?” said the first officer.
“Am I being arrested?” I asked, surprised.
The officer sighed. “No sir. [The Man from Citizens is] asking that you be cited for trespass.”
“As a rule I don’t just turn over my ID when asked,” I said, “but I want to see where this goes.”
The officer was getting annoyed now. “Look,” he said.
“I’m not trying to cause trouble,” I said, “I just want to know the process.”
“I write down your name,” said the officer, somewhat mollified, “then it goes into a database, and if you come to Citizens again we can confirm that you’re violating a trespass order and you’ll be arrested.”
“Is this for all Citizens Banks or just this one?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” said the officer, with the tone of an exasperated parent whose kid asks too many deep questions.
“Do I get a ticket, or a piece of paper or something that tells me I’ve been trespassed or whatever?” I asked.
More annoyance. “I’d have to call down to the station and have someone bring it down.”
“Cool,” I said, “I can wait.”
The officer turned to the other officer and asked, “Can you see if somebody can bring that down?”
I waited a while in the lobby with the officers. Then I saw Anusha and M outside, their transactions completed. I went outside to take their pictures. They left and I waited outside for a half an hour as the police stood inside the lobby of One Citizens Plaza. I thought we were all waiting for someone show up and deliver the paper that would show that I had been cited for trespass. I was on the phone with my editor Bob Plain when I realized that the cops had left the scene through the opposite door.
I never got my notice of trespass.