Militarized Eviction


Source: Democracy Now!

We look at the fight for affordable housing in the Bay Area with Moms 4 Housing, the unhoused and insecurely housed mothers who were evicted Tuesday by a militarized police force from a vacant home they had been occupying in Oakland, California. The action ended a two-month standoff between the mothers and real estate developer Wedgewood Properties when sheriff’s deputies arrested two mothers and two of their supporters. All four were released on bail Tuesday afternoon. We speak to Misty Cross, one of the moms who was arrested, and her daughter Destiny Johnson. “It was never about trying to stay in that house,” says Cross. “The message we were trying to send out was to get people aware of policies and things that are in place that are making us not move forward in life.” We also speak to Carroll Fife, the director of the Oakland office for Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to Oakland, California, where a group of unhoused mothers were evicted Tuesday from a vacant house they had been occupying for two months. Facing homelessness and skyrocketing rents, the working mothers moved into the house on 2928 Magnolia Street in November and stayed despite an eviction notice from real estate developer Wedgewood Properties. Their movement, Moms 4 Housing, gained international attention and became a rallying cry against rampant income inequality and homelessness in the Bay Area and across the U.S.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, as one of the mothers, Dominique Walker, joined us live on Democracy Now! from a studio in Berkeley, sheriff’s deputies carried out a pre-dawn, militarized raid aimed at evicting the moms, just after 5 a.m. Tuesday morning. Dominique pulled the earpiece out of her ear, and they left the studio. It was Tuesday morning about just around 6 a.m. California time. Dozens of armed deputies, including a tactical team, descended on the house on Magnolia Street, broke down the door with a battering ram, sent a robot into the house, allegedly to search for possible “threats.” The deputies then arrested two mothers who were living in the house, as well as two of their supporters. All four were released on bail Tuesday afternoon.

Well, for more, we go back to Berkeley, California, where we’re joined now by another of the mothers, Misty Cross, a member of Moms 4 Housing who was arrested on Tuesday, and her 12-year-old daughter Destiny Johnson. Also with us, Carroll Fife, who was joining us as the battering ram was going into the house. She’s the director of the Oakland office for Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, organizer, educator, mother and 20-year-plus resident of Oakland.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Misty, if you can start off by talking about what happened two mornings ago?

MISTY CROSS: Tuesday morning, it was like a movie scene. I had never seen anything like that live in my life. Two, we never had gotten sleep that night, because we knew that the sheriffs had 24 hours to serve the eviction. So, while we stayed up and watched and waited for them to come in, they came, and it was something like they had knew that Dominique wasn’t going to be at the home, so they waited ’til they got good on air, and started to proceed to do the eviction.

When they came to the door, ramming as hard as they were, in all the tactical gear, as we watched the window, with AR-15s and these tanks and fire departments and ambulances out there, like it was a real terrorist threat, like we were armed and we were dangerous. As I recall, we’ve always said that everything has been a nonviolent civil disobedient act. We haven’t disrespected anyone, nor have we caused harm to anyone. So, it was really shocking, and we were just puzzled, really, on how many armed forces were outside at that time.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s —

MISTY CROSS: Once the sheriff —

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead, Misty.

MISTY CROSS: Once the sheriffs actually made their way through the door to get in a little bit, they sent in a robot that came in to roam around the home to see if there was any explosives or weapons of some form. I later found out that the tank that they had outside was a detection on it that can shoot people and detect weapons on site, just by like a metal detector. So it would shoot at anything that had some form of weapon on them. I just still am like traumatized from it. I have been a victim of violent crime myself before, shot multiple times with an AK-47. So, to come out and see these men holding these guns, for women and children, was really — it was a scary moment. And it took me back.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of children, your daughter Destiny is sitting right next to you. Destiny, can you talk about how you felt on Tuesday morning?

DESTINY JOHNSON: Well, how I felt? It was like — as my mom said, it was scary. And all I wanted to know is that she’s going to be safe and what was the next step. And I was kind of puzzled, because I saw how heavy they came. And I was wondering like why. And I was imagining if I was there and if I was upstairs and just seeing them come in and like having guns drawed and if it was drawed at me and the other kids, it will be like that might cause trauma.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Carroll Fife, can you talk about how you understand the extraordinarily militarized response? I mean, tanks and guns and tactical gear?

CARROLL FIFE: I can’t understand it. I don’t understand it. There was some indicator that the sheriffs would use some type of force. It was alluded to in several press statements that were made by the Alameda County sheriffs, which is what prompted the moms to continuously repeat, as well as their attorneys, that this is nonviolent civil disobedience. But the sheriff said early on that the mothers would determine the level of force that they used. And so, we’re thinking there’s no reason to use any level of force for a nonviolent civil disobedience action. Yet they came in a way that I’ve never seen in real life, let alone in a residential small community for unarmed civilians. This is the most obscene use at taxpayer dollars that I’ve seen in a long time.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to the Mother Jones piece that we quoted the other day. “In Oakland, where buyers routinely offer hundreds of thousands of dollars over asking prices, there are nearly four vacant properties for every homeless person. It’s not so much an issue of scarcity, but of distribution.”

Carroll, you were in the studio, as well, when the two of you hightailed it out of there to get back to the house as the battering ram was moving in. Can you explain the owner of this house, how it was the house was vacant for two years, and the significance of what’s happening in Oakland — and, of course, larger than that?

CARROLL FIFE: This one home, particularly in the state that it’s in, represents very little to the owner of this property. And Wedgewood Properties, which has 96 subsidiaries all over the United States, operational in 18 states, is a very, very wealthy organization. So, this home represents hundreds, if not thousands, of other homes that lie vacant, able to be used by Oakland residents. If there are four empty homes for every one unsheltered person, you know, the city could potentially purchase those, put them in a land trust and house everyone and get people off the streets tonight, if that was the goal. But because we have a market, a housing market, that is highly speculative, and we are selling homes to the highest bidder, we have the outcomes, which are not coincidental, which is some of the highest levels of poverty and homelessness in the state of California.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Misty Cross, can you talk about what you think the local response from the leadership has been, including, especially, Mayor Libby Schaaf?

MISTY CROSS: Libby Schaaf, the mayor of Oakland, has not acknowledged Moms 4 Housing. The first time she mentioned out of her mouth of Moms 4 Housing was on the news, 7 a.m., before her press conference at 10 a.m. of her introduction of the S.B. 50 bill. When that news aired, it showed guns, break-ins. There was some operation that was going on that she was hosting to where they were going to look for criminals. And in the midst of her having that shown, she says that anyone breaking the law will have to pay a price. And then she showed the clip of homelessness and her concern about that. And it was mentioned: How did she feel about Moms 4 Housing, and was she in support? She never said that she was in support. She said that she understood the civil disobedience part of the movement, but never said once that she understood. Once —

AMY GOODMAN: We just — we just have 20 seconds. Where are you now, Misty and Destiny? Where are you staying, now that you’ve been evicted?

MISTY CROSS: We’re staying at a shelter. We’re staying at a shelter. We are still trying to think of our next solutions onto our housing situation, but all of that is moving forward. Again, it was never about trying to stay in that house. The message we were trying to send out was to get people aware of policies and things that are in place that are making us not move forward in life, and having housing as a human right, which is something that every human should have, period.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, with Part 2 of our discussion of what’s just happened in Oakland with a group of unhoused mothers evicted from the house they were occupying for two months.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: A group of unhoused mothers were evicted Tuesday from a vacant house in Oakland, California, they had been occupying for two months. As one of the mothers, Dominique Walker, joined us live on Democracy Now! from a studio in Berkeley, sheriff’s deputies carried out a pre-dawn, militarized raid aimed at evicting the mothers.

AMY GOODMAN: Just after 5 a.m. Tuesday morning, dozens of armed deputies, including a tactical team, descended on the house on Magnolia Street, broke down the door with a battering ram and sent a robot into the house, allegedly to search for possible “threats.” The deputies then arrested two mothers who were living in the house, as well as two of their supporters. All four were released on bail Tuesday afternoon.

So, we’re joined by one of those mothers and her daughter right now for Part 2 of our discussion about what took place. Misty Cross is with us, a member of Moms 4 Housing. We’re also joined by her 12-year-old daughter Destiny Johnson. And with us, Carroll Fife is back, the director of the Oakland office for Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, organizer, mom, educator, 20-plus-year resident of Oakland, who was in our studio Tuesday morning in Berkeley when the battering ram came up to the house and the women inside were arrested.

Misty, in Part 1 of our discussion, you describe what it was like to be inside and the trauma you felt. Then what happened? You were handcuffed and taken out?

MISTY CROSS: Correct. We was handcuffed and taken out. We were told by the sheriffs that they were going to release us once they took us around the corner to the paddy wagon. That did not happen. A couple of things that the sheriff says have not been true and have been lies. Ahern gave us paperwork as we were put into the paddy wagon in handcuffs, with his letterhead on the top of it, stating that they had some shelters for us to go to. And that was the help that they were assisting us with, not with two months rent, not with trying to be concerned about our health or our condition or where we were to go next. It was a paper with his letterhead on it, given to us, in cuffs, saying, “Take this with you as you’re going to jail.”

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Misty Cross, you were released on $5,000 bail?

MISTY CROSS: Correct.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened to all your property that was inside? I mean, to be clear, this house was vacant for two years, owned by Wedgewood Properties. You went in in November. What happened to all of your things, your family’s things?

MISTY CROSS: We were told that negotiations had happened with our legal team and city officials and the sheriffs for us to be able to go in the home the following day at 10 a.m. to remove our things with our moving truck outside. Before 10 a.m., there was PG&E construction work going on. And they had movers there taking our stuff out in trash bags, throwing it to the curb. Our things were brand new. There were things that we paid for. There were things that our kids built, their bedroom sets. Every artwork that they made and created, that we used to make this house a home, was on the streets. Babies’ chairs, strollers.

It was a sad sight to see. It was really hurtful. And it showed the real hurt in the anger that Wedgewood is really built on. It showed that they have no sympathy or nothing for the people. While we are trying to build something, they’re tearing it down, and even though we haven’t had any neighbor problems. We were welcomed in by the neighbors. We’ve been doing successful things, nothing violent. And to have that done to us after the fact that we were arrested and went through a lot, it just showed true colors of what’s really happening.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the video of what happened in the days leading up to this eviction, with hundreds of neighbors coming to show their support in the middle of the night, with a text going out. In 15 minutes, you had hundreds of people there. It was astounding.

MISTY CROSS: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Misty, your daughter Destiny is sitting next to you, 12 years old. Destiny, before we go to ask you directly about what happened, we wanted to go to a video of you that was made when you were inside the house in Oakland, before you were evicted, talking about what the house means to you. This was produced by Zween Works.

DESTINY JOHNSON: OK, so what’s the what-what? What’s going on? What’s happening? My mom and lots of other moms, all who have young kids, all who are experiencing some kind of homelessness, took over this abandoned home, a vacant property, a house no one was living in for close to two years. We fixed it up. Now we live in it. We made it a home.

And here it is. And here it is! Now I have a clean and quiet place where I can do my homework. So, in the morning, when the sun comes up, I like to sit on the back steps and read. And it has this little front yard with the trees.

I worry. I do. I worry a lot. I worry for my mom, because she puts herself out there. And I worry for my little sister. She’s only 5. She’s a kid. She doesn’t really understand what’s — what’s going on. And I know she’s already falling in love with having a place to call home.

AMY GOODMAN: “Place to call home.” Destiny, that was made by Zween Works. Talk more about what it meant for you to have this house, to be there with your family, and then where you are right now, what happened to you this week.

DESTINY JOHNSON: What it feels like to have a home, it’s like more comforting knowing that you could like go to school, come back and go home and go to sleep. And your mom can cook for you. You also can have dinners at the table. We were able to, as you — if you saw the pictures, we were able to put up a Christmas tree. Haven’t done that in a long time. We’ve been able to have a nice Christmas and decorate the tree together as a family.

AMY GOODMAN: Destiny, you were not in the house when the battering rams and the robot came in Tuesday morning. Misty, you’re her mother. Talk about the decision to take the kids out the night before.

MISTY CROSS: We had got the children out at 5 p.m. that evening, before the sheriffs came in the next morning. So we had a gathering out in front, and we knew that the sheriffs were going to serve that eviction within that timeframe of the 24 hours that they had left. They had up until Wednesday, so that day that they came was Tuesday morning. And they planned it perfectly, the way that they did it and waited for Dominique and Carroll to go on air, and assumed that the house would not have anyone in it. That is the way that they did it.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to what happened that night before, in a really interesting video that was made of the gathering of people and how everyone fought for you to continue in your house.

PROTESTERS: Stop the eviction! We won’t move! Stop the eviction! We won’t move!

NICOLE DEANE: My name’s Nicole. I’m an organizer with Moms’ House Solidarity Committee. And we just got word that the sheriffs were on their way to evict Moms 4 Housing. And so we sent out a text blast to over 1,800 people. And that was maybe 15 minutes ago. As you can see, we’ve got hundreds of people showing up to defend the house, which is a really beautiful and awesome thing. And so, we’re here, and we’re holding fast.

MOMS 4 HOUSING MEMBER: Thank you for your support!

PROTESTER: We love you!

DOMINIQUE WALKER: People are out here. The community has had enough. We’ve had enough. And this shows you that we’ve had enough, and we’re going to fight back.

PROTESTERS: The rent, the rent, the rent is too damn high! The rent, the rent, the rent is too damn high! The rent, the rent, the rent is too damn high! The rent, the rent, the rent is too damn high!

CARROLL FIFE: The sheriffs had plans to run up in here tonight, and that didn’t happen. They were on the 5:00 news saying that they would be indoors any minute. And then they had another person here saying that they would come in at 7:00, and they didn’t. So I think they understand how — like Dominique said, how the town get down. So, we got report that it was on CNN that the sheriff said there would be no entry tonight. That is definitely reason for applause. And at the same time, we don’t trust the sheriff. … Please go home, if you have a home to go to, and get some rest, because this is still the beginning of a fight.

AMY GOODMAN: The piece produced by Brandon Jourdan and Marianne Maeckelbergh, which brings us back to Carroll Fife, a longtime housing organizer. If you can put all of this back into context and how it is that — I mean, the courts, of course, you all went to court, and the judges ruled you could be evicted. How common is this, and this issue of the number of vacant houses and the mass number of people who are unhoused in the Bay Area?

CARROLL FIFE: Yeah, it’s staggering. I came to the studio this morning and saw encampments that I’ve never seen before. There are enough empty units in our city to house every homeless person that needs a home. There’s enough. Scarcity is not the issue. What’s the issue is that we have an economy and a real estate industry that puts profit over people.

So, as long as we allow speculation to happen, we will always have people that are living on the streets, because when our minimum wage doesn’t keep pace with inflation, and people are working, making anywhere from $3 to $15 an hour, and are not making the housing wage for Alameda County, which is $40.88 cents per hour, you will always have a wealth gap that doesn’t allow the average working-class person to participate in the rental or home purchase economy. It’s just not going to happen. So we’re going to continue to see this kind of rampant homelessness, which should be the true crime that our cities are facing. We need answers. We need solutions for that.

But I also have to say that there needs to be a level of accountability for the Alameda County sheriff for bringing in the paramilitary forces in the way that they did to serve an eviction notice on women and children. The fact that they battered down the door, not only the exterior door, but an interior door to the living room, is beyond overkill. So we demand justice, and we demand to know who authorized that level of use of force in Alameda County that had tanks and military personnel at a home in West Oakland.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Destiny, I wanted to ask whether you know other children who are in the same situation as you, other children you went to school with who also didn’t have a home?

DESTINY JOHNSON: No.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: No, you didn’t know? None of your classmates, no one you knew, also didn’t have a home?

DESTINY JOHNSON: No.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So what was it like for you to be the only person, the only student at school, who had no home to go back to?

DESTINY JOHNSON: Well, it had been a long time, so it’s sort of like I got used to it. So, after school, I used to go to my after-school program. And there, it’s fun. I like going there. And there, they treat me like I’m everyone’s little daughter, and it’s so hilarious.

AMY GOODMAN: And tell us what the shelter is like right now. So you’ve all scattered to different shelters since you were evicted just a few days ago. What it’s like to be in the shelter — how, Destiny, does the shelter compare to the house you were in?

DESTINY JOHNSON: The difference is when you’re in a shelter, it’s like when you’re sleeping, someone like walks by, and it’s like you get the feeling of somebody like watching you while you’re sleeping. And when in your own home, you don’t have to worry about that, because you know you’ll be safe.

AMY GOODMAN: Misty, Wedgewood Properties, that owns your house, the house that was vacant for two years before you moved in, offered you two months’ housing cost, is that right? You rejected it? Can you talk about why?

MISTY CROSS: The offer was false. And as we can see now, when we got arrested, what the offer was, the offer was nothing but shelters. It was shelter help. They failed to realize and pay attention to the fact that we had been through the 211 process. We had been through the social service 14-day stay in a hotel. We had been through all the resources that this county and city has put up, and none of them are working.

So we wanted to come to the table with folks. And that’s the reason why we reached out to a lot of officials, city officials, mayors, county workers, to see if they can support us with coming to the table and negotiating for us to purchase the home from Wedgewood and supporting us into also showing up for us when it comes to changing policies and listening to us about the solutions that we have that can work towards making homelessness end within our own city,

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Carroll Fife, can you talk about this controversial local housing bill, S.B. 50?

CARROLL FIFE: I can speak to that a little bit. Senate Bill 50 was introduced by Senator Scott Wiener to the Assembly, and he is trying to create more housing in the state of California through building high-density housing near public transportation. And one of the issues and concerns of this bill that has failed previously is that it still creates additional market-rate units and doesn’t do enough to provide affordable units. In Oakland specifically, building is happening. And the problem is, is that the building that is occurring, the development that’s occurring, is not for working people. It’s not for people who can afford rents that are in line with their income. So, they’re still market-rate units, they’re still luxury units, that Misty wouldn’t be able to access, that the Moms 4 Housing wouldn’t be able to access.

So, it was particularly disrespectful to have a housing conversation about a statewide bill for affordable housing without talking to any affordable housing tenant or resident, grassroots organizations. And to do it in a city that the senator doesn’t represent was odd. And so, the reason the mothers participated in that event when they announced S.B. 50 in downtown Oakland was because the mayor had gone — the mayor of Oakland had gone on the news that morning mentioning Moms 4 Housing and had never talked to Moms 4 Housing, in the same way that Senator Wiener had not spoken to any resident-based groups in Oakland about what the amendments to Senate Bill 50 would be. So it’s just an overall disregard of community voice in this process that continues to perpetuate homelessness on our streets.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to the mayor of Oakland, Libby Schaaf, speaking to KTVU Fox 2, expressing shock over the tactics used in Tuesday’s eviction.

MAYOR LIBBY SCHAAF: My heart goes out to those mothers. These are mothers. They are not criminals. They are mothers that have engaged in what I believe is a courageous act of civil disobedience to really highlight our housing crisis. And I was pretty shocked to see the tactics that were used to take them out of the home in the early dawn hours this morning.

AMY GOODMAN: When you listen, Misty, to your mayor, to the Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, expressing shock over the use of the battering ram, the police moving in, your thoughts?

MISTY CROSS: Unbelievable. Unbelievable that a mayor of a city wouldn’t know that all of this tactic, things were about to happen in her own city. I can’t believe that she feels any compassion towards us. We looked this lady dead in her face the day that the S.B. 50 was going to be introduced to Oakland, and with tears in our eyes and crying to our mayor and letting her know that she should come to the table to sit down with us. This lady had a cold, stale face. Look, it was sort of like a poker face. She showed no sympathy for us. It was really sad to look our mayor in the eyes and for her to verbally tell us that she’s done with being the mayor of Oakland. It was really hard to just take it all in at once, when we’re going through so much and putting our lives on the line and being vulnerable for people to examine our lives inside and out.

It was just disrespectful for her to get on the news and to say that she couldn’t believe that, when I can’t believe that any mayor or any representative of this city wouldn’t know that that type of force was about to happen. That hadn’t happened without a call. They called the mayor and let her know that that was happening. So we do need to find out who let that happen, and hold everybody accountable. I mean, it was Fire Department ambulance out there, SWAT, tanks, sheriffs, OPD. It was too much force for our mayor not to know.

AMY GOODMAN: Carroll, if you can talk about the significance of this? And also, I mean, we came out to the Bay Area and did specials on the unhoused population, California ground zero. You have — California is 12% of the U.S. population but has half the country’s unhoused population, from Los Angeles to the Bay Area. And you have the pressure of the tech companies just pushing up the cost of housing stock in the Bay Area.

In November, The New York Times wrote, “Apple’s $2.5 billion plan … to help solve the dire shortage of affordable housing that has come to dominate life and politics in the most populous state. The pledge came weeks after Facebook announced $1 billion for a similar program, and months after Google did the same. Earlier, in January, Microsoft committed $500 million for affordable housing in the Seattle area.”

Where is all this going? And do you think, Carroll Fife, that is the right direction? What do you think has to happen? When we were in Oakland, what, there were like 90 different housing — there were like 90 different housing encampments.

CARROLL FIFE: I’ll say this. I do think it is not only important, but I think it is obligatory, that private industry should have to contribute to the housing crisis, because they are in part responsible. I do think that there should be conversation with organizations who are working with and for resident-based organizations, who have shown a track record of success for ensuring that there’s permanent housing. What the state and a lot of these organizations are trying to do, these companies are trying to do, is create homeless assistance creating temporary shelters. People need permanent housing. The people living in encampments, many of them, the majority of them, want permanent housing. Everything is able to be better facilitated when people have access to a stable and secure place to live — everything — education, healthcare, mental health, the ability to actually deal with substance abuse, to raise children. Everything is more possible and our society is better when we have permanent housing.

And this permanent housing has to be owned by community, not privately owned in the way that we’re used to, these single transactions, but through things like the land trust. We’ve been able to house dozens of individuals in a short amount of time, that we want to bring to scale through the use of a land trust, which makes the homes owned by the residents and the land permanently owned by the community, in a land trust. So that’s the model that we’re advocating, to return homes to community control and take the commodification aspect of residential housing out.

AMY GOODMAN: And how do the housing courts work? I mean, you all went to court and lost in case after case.

CARROLL FIFE: The housing courts’ work is basically a mill to grind people down and send them out to the streets. And I tend to believe that the particular judge in the case for the moms — I think he cares. I think he deliberated on this case and didn’t immediately judge on the case, because he cares. But his hands are tied by the law, which is why we have to change the law. And that’s one of our primary goals with my organization, is to change the law to make housing a right. That is something that we’ve been talking about and working towards for the last few months, and that’s what we’re building popular support, to get people ready to vote to change the Constitution of California so that housing is a right, just like access to water is a right.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to give Misty and Destiny the last word. Misty, what message do you have for people in this country, housed and unhoused?

MISTY CROSS: I would say, for people of the world and the country, that we just have to stay focused, pay attention in what’s happening around us and start supporting one another. This hatred that we hold and the jealousy of things not going our way has to be buried. We have to stay focused and fight for bigger causes that really impact our lives. We have to make a change as people. We have to come together and stand strong.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Destiny, your message to other kids and to adults?

DESTINY JOHNSON: Like don’t be afraid to share your story, because it’s always OK to open up about it. And you’re not the only one who’s homeless as a kid, so don’t be afraid.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all for being with us, Destiny Johnson, 12 years old; her mom, Misty Cross, who’s part of Moms 4 Housing; and Carroll Fife, director of the Oakland office for Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment.

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