What Happened to Stephen?

It is late evening, November 5, 2011. Most of the progressive activists in North Texas are asking what happened to Stephen Benavides. How did he come to be arrested? Was he hurt when the Dallas police gang tackled him on the sidewalk outside the downtown Bank of America? Where is he now? What was he charged with? What can we do?

stephen benavides

I had talked to Stephen a little before noon today. He called to apologize for missing our breakfast date. He'd had a lot to deal with in trying to get Occupation Dallas activities for the day sorted out. All the strain of living in the tent colony since it began on october 6th, struggling to work with his union, the Steelworkers, and other unions had made his role very critical for the movement, and it was a lot of burden. The blatant murder by gunfire of his brother a few weeks ago had tremendously complicated Stephen's outlook.

Nevertheless, he was upbeat. With my encouragement, he had attended the AFL-CIO Young Workers Summit just a week or so before Occupation Dallas began, and he was trying to bring a "young workers" focus to Occupation Dallas activities. Because so many of the groups' activities were spontaneous and virtually impossible to relate to, many opportunities to broaden and strengthen the movement had been missed. Stephen had initiated a call for a major march on November 19th to target the "Super Committee" that is getting ready to cut trillions from the federal budget. I told him this morning that it was a brilliant move and, as a retiree activist, I gratefully supported it wholeheartedly.

I asked Stephen about broadening the movement by being more inclusive of immigrants' rights activists and other civil rights issues. I reported on the "We are not Trash" march earlier this morning, and we discussed the "Occupy the Hood" slogan that is catching on around the country. Stephen was all for it, but he pointed out that there is a lot of sectarianism in the movement, with this or that splinter group trying to splinter off more people. It's been a problem, but not a major obstacle, all across the country. Stephen wanted to share more ideas, but the occupation people were getting ready to leave City Hall to march to Bank of America, and he had to join them. We both agreed that a broad strong movement for the 99% was the goal, and I hung up the phone feeling good about things and about my young friend Stephen Benavides.

I didn't see him again until we had been with the MoveOn rally at Bank of America on Lamar & Main Streets for ten or fifteen minutes. It was a terrific rally with about 100 very diverse people holding diverse homemade signs and chanting a variety of slogans together. The excitement really built when we saw the Occupation march approaching us from further up Main. They were mostly young, bursting over with energy, and exciting to be around. Stephen, as always, was one of the first to mount the concrete planters built around the trees and bushes of the BOA. Waving his blue Steelworker flag, he cut quite a figure!

I was giving George Nolan a list of people to call when the critical seconds took place, so I have to relate what I heard, but I heard it from a very reliable firsthand source.

A bank guard came out and deliberately pushed Stephen and another man off the planters. He might have spoken to them first, or he might have asked the big gangs of police to move them, but he didn't. He just shoved and both Stephen and the other guy hit the sidewalk. The next pictures I took were of a gang-pile of Dallas policemen pinning Stephen down to the pavement. There were at least four of them, and at least four more standing outside the pile and facing off a very hostile crowd. We were yelling "shame, shame, shame, shame" as they roughly handcuffed Stephen and took him to their waiting paddy wagon. Another young man was hurt and was stretched out on top of one of the planters.

police/protester standoff

Then the police established a policy of daring any of us to step off the sidewalk. Six or seven people took them up on it, and were marched to the paddy wagon. I had to step off the curb to get this shot, but scurried back when warned by a gendarme. By then, every camera and every cell phone was documenting the events.Just to see better, lots of people were standing on the planters, but nobody got assaulted or arrested for it.

I understand that [email protected] wants photos. I expect that a whole lot of legal action was generated by these events.

The EMT's came for the injured youth, then the excitement began to wane. Somebody from the Occupation group yelled that they should go to Chase Bank, so they marched off. Most of us from the original MoveOn group were still there. A Dallas policeman came over to tell us that he understood that we were the legal and peaceful group and that all the troublemakers were in the Occupation group. That really angered the MoveOn people, and they immediately decided to follow after the others in solidarity. It was annoying to have such an obvious "divide and conquer" tactic applied immediately after the show of force and intimidation. It looks like the Dallas police are looking for any excuse to attack and undermine the protest movement, but I rather doubt that todays' events will work in their favor.

We'll see, won't we?

--Gene Lantz