On the 12th of July, the defendants who went to trial for the November 19th takeover of Franklin School/shelter were found “guilty,” but the judge gave them a very light sentence.
The sentence the judge gave the defendants was a $50 payment to the crime victims’ fund; 5 day suspended jail time, 3 months unsupervised probation. The judge rejected a prosecution request for a community service sentence, saying most of the defendants’ activities were in fact community service.
Meanwhile, the defendants, their supporters, and other activists are in effect warning developers NOT to buy the Franklin School if it ever is offered for sale by the city. One of the defendants bluntly stated that it would always be either a homeless shelter or vacant, as developers won’t want to buy a building that could be retaken by activsts at any time and has this sort of history. As a historic building, it cannot be demolished, so it would remain in existance and remain a focus of shelter activism even after any such sale.
Franklin has been taken over three times over the hypothermia/homelessness issue. In 2002 MAYDAY DC took it over, causing it to be opened at first as a hypothermia shelter only. It later became a full time shelter after former Mayor Williams tried to close it in 2003, earning a second takeover by MAYDAY DC.
After the closure of Franklin Shelter by former Mayor Fenty, city officials thought they could declare the building “surplus” and sell it to a developer. At a 2010 hearing on the subject with developers present, I warned them in person that the builidng had been taken over twice and did they want to go for three times. On November 19, 2011, Free Franklin backed by Occupy DC made that promise a reality.
Now, with the trial of those defendants who went to a jury trial over, ending in light sentences only, Franklin still sits vacant and the hundreds of homeless men who used to sleep there must still sleep in the streets. What is next for Franklin? The Free Franklin Support Committee says “Whatever today’s verdict, the city remains guilty of leaving public buildings empty as people sleep outside them.”