JPMorgan Chase Feels PR Burn From Protester Macings

During JPMorgan Chase’s annual shareholder meeting Tuesday, more than 900 protesters braved cold, rainy conditions to gather outside the company’s building in Columbus, Ohio, a city plagued by foreclosures and unemployment.  

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The Huffington Post reports that as the demonstrations wore on, local police maced several elderly protesters during an attempt to move a group of demonstrators back from the building. 

According to the Columbus Dispatch, The New Bottom Line protest group, consisting of homeowners, clergy members, union leaders and others, has been behind protests at other banks’ annual meetings this spring. It has been pushing banks to modify mortgages of struggling homeowners and increase lending to small businesses to help the economy create jobs

Veteran union organizer Stephen Lerner told the Huffington Post that the police were notably more aggressive than at events in the past. According to the article, police threatened another group of protesters with dogs, although no serious injuries from dogs were reported.

"It was insane," said Robin Acree, Executive Director of Grass Roots Organizing, a social justice group based in Missouri, who said she was still in pain several hours after the protest from being maced. Feny Dorsey, a 55-year-old resident of Mexico, Missouri, told HuffPost she was maced and saw other older people being maced, as well.

HuffPost reports that JPMorgan Chase spokesman Tom Kelly declined to comment on police actions, directing any questions to the Columbus Department of Police, which did not respond to phone calls. Kelly did suggest, however, that the Robin Hood-costumed protesters may have been marketing plants from Capital One, a bank known for using viking imagery in its television advertisements. Capital One spokeswoman Pam Girardo responded by saying that that Capital One was "not involved in any way."

For financial services companies still trying to lift their damaged reputations, particularly for those involved in foreclosures, the handling of this protest is particularly damaging.

While holding the meeting at the bank's Columbus site instead of its New York home base was a nod to the company’s 17,000 central Ohio employees, Chase's investor relations team should have have been better prepared for the protest. Chase could have hired a security detail that was experienced with handling non-violent crowd demonstrations. The local police's overly aggressive tactics will only result in bad coverage for Chase, a company that already has its hands full in managing financial communications to its disgruntled and wary stakeholders.