CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Four people were arrested Wednesday as they tried to force their way into the annual Bank of America shareholders' meeting in Charlotte. Police used a new ordinance to declare the gathering an extraordinary event subject to special restrictions.
Hundreds of people gathered on the streets as dozens of police officers worked to contain the protest.
Inside the auditorium at the company's headquarters, the protests continued. Shareholder after shareholder took the microphone to berate the bank for its handling of foreclosures, its investments in payday lenders, and also investments in the coal industry.
On stage, CEO Brian Moynihan's attempts at sidestepping hard questions or deflecting answers were met with loud jeers. Attendees shouted "amen" after anti-Bank of America statements were made other shareholders.
At least 20 shareholders spoke at the meeting. Almost all disapproved of various Bank of America practices.
Sister Barbara Bush, who works with troubled homeowners in Cincinnati, told Moynihan that about 41 percent of the people she works with are Bank of American borrowers, but finds that the bank is the hardest and most frustrating to deal with.
"We find that we have no one to talk to because no one calls us back," Bush said. Moynihan said the bank has about 50,000 people dedicated to working with troubled homeowners.
Reverend Mike McCarthy of Iowa said Bank of America supports one of the nation's largest payday lenders, Advance America, by providing millions of dollars in credit to the company.
"The payday loan industry is devastating our cities... Bank of America must get out of this industry," McCarthy said. Moynihan said the bank will continue to assess the business of payday lending.
Outside, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Major Jeff Estes said the four people who were arrested were charged with crossing a police line, a misdemeanor. He also said the protest was peaceful.
"There's been no property damage, and nobody was injured. We're pleased with the outcome," he said.
Charlotte police used a new ordinance allowing the city to declare public gatherings as extraordinary events. That allowed authorities to designate areas where people aren't allowed to carry backpacks, magic markers and other items.
The measures were adopted in advance of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte this summer. Estes says police didn't confiscate any of those materials at the demonstration.
Johnny Rosa of Framingham, Mass., was one of those arrested. Rosa said before he was taken into custody that his home had been foreclosed and he wanted to tell shareholders the foreclosure was wrong because he wanted to make payments.
He said his monthly mortgage was $1,290. But after his wife was injured and lost her job in 2010, it was tough to keep up with payments. Then when he was injured a year later, Rosa said they lost more income.
"I called them and told them I could make payments. I could pay them some money. I asked them for more time. But they didn't listen," he said.
Rosa applied for several government programs designed to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. But he said the bank didn't work with him. This March, Rosa says his home was foreclosed.
"All I want to do is tell them how this has hurt my family," Rosa said.
The protest was billed by its organizers as the "Showdown in Charlotte." They were protesting Bank of America's policies on foreclosures, and the bank's support of the coal industry.
After gathering for nearly two hours in front of the bank building, the group marched to Bank of America Stadium to continue their protest there.
The protesters carried signs saying: "Stop Corporate Greed." They banged on makeshift drums and chanted slogans: "We are the 99 percent."
Gail Kirshy and her husband, Darrell, own thousands of shares of BofA stock, but were turned away from the meeting by bank employees who said they had arrived too late. The couple drove from Florence, S.C. to attend the meeting.
"I'm very disgusted," she said. "We should be allowed to go inside."
Gogoi wrote from New York.