UMB Student Charged in Park Cleanup; Anarchists Targeted

Carl Brooks

A UMass Boston student says he was wrongly arrested by the Cambridge Police and misrepresented in the media. Michael Auffinger, known on campus as “Punk Rock Mike,” was arrested along with seven other people at an abandoned gas station outside Central Square on April 14. Auffinger says that he was passing by when he saw a friend of his working to clean up and beautify the property, known as Lafayette Square, with Boston activist group Homes Not Jails.

According to Auffinger, the police showed up suddenly and made a sweep of the property, arresting the Homes Not Jails members and Auffinger. “Originally, there were only two squad cars,” said Auffinger, but a dozen officers and a paddy wagon showed up to make the arrests. The group was charged with misdemeanor trespassing and misdemeanor breaking and entering.

Auffinger was held for a few hours and the bailed “by friends.” He was arraigned along with the others the next morning, and the “charges were raised by the police prosecutor to felonies. I don’t know why they did that.”

According to Auffinger, the project to clean up Lafayette Square has been ongoing, and the Homes Not Jails group had already visited the site a number of times to pick up trash, remove rubble and plant flowers and a small tree. An abandoned gas station at the far end of Central Square, Lafayette Square was reclaimed by the city under eminent domain about ten years ago, and plans were made to turn the area into a public park. The city never worked on the area, and it became more and more dilapidated.

After the arrests, Fox25 Boston ran a story on the evening news that claimed that the arrestees were all anarchists and were making preparations for the Democratic National Convention by storing materials inside the gas station. Fox had apparently mistaken Homes Not Jails, which is an activist group focused on affordable urban housing, for one of several anarchist groups in Boston which are planning protests at the convention.

The broadcast reportedly linked the arrests to plans to disrupt the DNC with organized violence and painted a picture of a violent subterranean network of anarchists that alarmed viewers. A story that reported plans of violence by anarchists had appeared in the Boston Herald on April 8, and an article also appeared in the Boston Globe on April 15. Fox25 did not return calls for comment.

Auffinger says he has “absolutely no clue” where Fox got the idea that the Homes Not Jails members were part of an anarchist network.

He says that he has a pretty good idea why he and seven others were rounded up suddenly, after months of undisturbed work on the park. “Somewhere, the story got circulated that the purpose was not to clean up the park, but to convert the station into a headquarters.”

“Various media sources have connected the Bl(A)ck Tea Society with the arrests and it is absolutely misguided,” he said.

The Bl(A)ck Tea Society is a confederation of anarchist and activist groups in Boston that was formed more than a year ago when it was announced that the DNC would be held in Boston.

Auffinger dismissed the idea, saying that The Bl(A)ck Tea Society, of which he is a member, is planning protests, but had nothing to do with Homes Not Jails or Lafayette Square. “We’re part of an ad-hoc coalition [of protest groups] formed for the purpose of protesting at the DNC. We’re planning a big concert [and several other events].”

According to an article that ran in the Cambridge Chronicle on April 22, “city officials said the group illegally broke into the station, and were using the site to store tools and other materials.”

‘They weren’t planting trees and flowers, they were planting baloney,’ said City Manager Robert Healy. ‘I don’t know what kinds of trees you plant with crowbars and drills, and they were using that site for storage of their materials.'”

Auffinger contradicts this account, saying, “They planted a tree,” but that there were no materials being stored there of any kind. The city manager did not return repeated calls for comment, nor did the Cambridge Police Department.

So what caused the anti-anarchist hype and helped spread the story that a group of guerilla street cleaners was dangerous and violent? Auffinger thinks he has the answer, “Unfortunately, these are sort of typical [media] errors.

“There’s a general hysteria right now and the media is trying to sort protesters into legitimate protesters and non-legitimate protesters,” in order to fix the blame for highly publicized acts of violence at several previous demonstrations, “and this in turn legitimizes police repression.”

Auffinger says that his group is “100 percent non-violent,” and that it’s partly their appearance that causes alarm. Anarchists typically wear bandannas to cover their faces and patched black clothing and carry “lots of gear, and that makes [the police] nervous. We’ll have first aid, remedies for gas, whatever.”

So far, despite the Cambridge arrests, the city of Boston does not seem terribly worried about the anarchists, but security will reach an unprecedented height during the convention, and the easy-to-spot anarchists may be singled out as potential troublemakers.

Auffinger’s pre-trial date is May 26. He is being represented by the National Lawyer’s Guild.