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Women charged who left fake body bags outside Connecticut Capitol, other buildings to protest evictions and hazardous housing

Hartford Courant logo Hartford Courant 6/8/2021 Jessika Harkay, Hartford Courant

Two women who left fake body bags outside the state Capitol and in other locations around Hartford on April 1 to protest evictions and hazardous housing conditions have been arrested by state police.

Olivia Rinkes, 30, and Erin Melocowsky,19, were charged with disorderly conduct in connection with the bags left at the Capitol. Both women were released on $5,000 bonds.

A state police news release simply said the women left “suspicious packages” outside the Capitol on April 1 but Ivelisse Correa, of Black Lives Matter 860, confirmed the arrests were in relation to the protest where black trash bags were left at several locations. She said members of the organization accompanied Melocowsky to court Monday and that Rinkes was free Friday and that she believes the act of protest was worth it.

“When we did the body bag protest, you know, that caused Hartford to create a new ordinance and hire more housing inspectors. So it took some sort of action for something to happen,” she said. “The arrests are going to be worth it, but it shouldn’t have to take all that.”

On the morning of April 1, fake body bags alongside signs that said, “Eviction is not a joke” and “Cancel Rent,” were placed around the Capitol building, the Governor’s Residence, Mayor Luke Bronin’s residence and Hartford City Hall.

Correa said the problem with the arrests is the fact that police “witnessed when they dropped off the bags.”

“The advocates actually not only dropped off the bags, they took pictures with them and made sure the signs were there,” she added. “The protesters pulled away after watching a press conference, so they were there for an extended period of time, police then decided that they were going to issue warrants, cause a big alert and arrest them. But police felt they didn’t need to act when protestors were there and they witnessed them with the bags on sight.”

Melocowsky added that she feels the arrests are a form of retaliation.

“We want progressive change, including in the police system and eviction sheriffs have a huge hand in evictions and are very close with landlords,” she told the Courant. “That’s why I feel like the police are choosing to retaliate and are deliberately targeting activists.”

The Capitol underwent a lockdown, which was lifted no more than 10 minutes later. Capitol police later confirmed that morning that the packages did not contain anything that would trigger a safety concern.

It was unclear whether there are additional pending arrests in connection to the fake body bags as multiple people were involved, Correa added.

Black Lives Matter 860 later published a news release online calling for the charges to be dismissed.

“With the public arrests of our allies Erin and Olivia, we are coming forward to denounce the retaliatory behavior of Connecticut State Police regarding the ‘Body Bag Protest’ arrests,” the release read. “[The officers’] actions further bolster our resolve to continue to push for the strengthening of the police accountability bill, to mandate civilian review boards with subpoena power and to protest even harder as we are now all vaccinated with the pandemic coming to an end.”

Regardless of being hopeful that the charges will be dropped, Melocowsky said she’s glad the protest and her arrest are “bringing attention to larger issues.”

“I think when you are specific about who you’re targeting when you’re protesting, that’s when action is actually made or you know something is done,” Melocowsky said. “Black and Brown people are disproportionally impacted [by housing], especially in Connecticut, since we are the most racially segregated state. You can literally see it when you’re crossing the town line from Glastonbury into Hartford. ... This is definitely not a COVID problem, this is a systemic problem that our governor needs to address.”

The 19-year-old was previously arrested last September on a disorderly conduct charge after blocking traffic during a Black Lives Matter protest in Glastonbury. Police received multiple complaints about traffic being blocked by Melocowsky and about six to eight other protesters. When officers arrived, Melocowsky refused to leave the road, which led to her arrest.

“We know that if we don’t do it, no one’s running up to take our place. People have attempted to hit us with cars. People have flashed guns at us. People have inboxed us death threats,” said Correa, who added that she was punched in the face at that protest. “It’s been hard because [when it comes to the opposition, the police] have this very soft and human touch. ... We’re both fighting for things we believe in, but at the very least you’d think there’d be some sort of mutual respect.”

Jessika Harkay can be reached at jharkay@courant.com.

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