Photo: Oakland Police Department operation to evict Moms 4 Housing from investor-owned property (From Moms 4 Housing Instagram)
By Sandra Harris
Before dawn on Tuesday, Oakland police evicted and arrested two women associated with the group Moms 4 Housing along with two supporters. The group was formed in November after two mothers and their children moved into a vacant house in West Oakland owned by real estate investment firm Wedgewood Properties, a company which buys houses in bulk to ‘flip’ and sell.
At 5 am Tuesday morning, Alameda County deputies arrived at the house at 2928 Magnolia St. in military fatigues and armored vehicles. Inside, women were sleeping when the police used a battering ram to break down the front door of the house. One of the members, along with Caroll Fife from the NGO Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, were on air at the time interviewing with progressive media outlet Democracy Now! when they received notice that police had begun evicting the mothers.
On the Monday evening prior to the eviction, Moms 4 Housing sent an alert to their supporters that sheriffs were arriving to evict, and around 200 to 300 people arrived to support the group. There was an impromptu rally outside the house, but after several hours no police had arrived, and the group declared a victory.
Fife, who was standing with the mothers at the house told supporters “…we got a 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….” Attendees were then instructed to arrive back to the home at 6 am.
The crowd had clearly deterred police action at that time, but it was an unfortunate mistake to base their strategy on bourgeois news reports, or not consider that the police themselves were monitoring when to make their move. Informed that there would not be a crowd before 6 am, the police identified their best time to strike.
At 5:30 am, a text was sent out that the police had mobilized to evict, but according to supporters, by the time they arrived the house was already blocked off by a line of deputies. After the heavily armed police broke into the home, they sent a robot into the house to “search it for possible threats.” People stood on the sidewalk and chanted “Shame on you!” as the mothers and supporters were being arrested. Moms 4 Housing confirmed that the children who had been living at the house were not present at the time of the eviction.
Supporters reported that the police had arrived with a ‘tank.’ The Oakland chief of police Ray Kelly claimed they needed the ballistic vehicle “…in case we had to do recuses of civilians in the home or officers.”
The chief told media reports this was not a “normal eviction,” and also claimed they recognized protesters from other “violent” Bay Area protests. In October, Oakland police department violently repressed protests against the Oakland Unified School District and arrested six protesters.
“They came in like an army for mothers and babies,” said Dominique Walker, one of the founding members of Moms 4 Housing. The people arrested were released later that day after raising substantial legal funds as the eviction gained attention from supporters across the country.
Oakland, like the rest of the Bay Area and other major cities in California, is rapidly gentrifying. There has been a 47% increase in homelessness in just two years. On their website, Moms 4 Housing state there are four vacant homes in Oakland for every person without a home. The group also stated their intent was to remain in the vacant investor-owned home until it was “returned to the Oakland community.”
The mothers not only represent the struggle of working people to find housing, but of a Black community who were once 35% of Oakland’s total population, now only 16% as of 2018. As nearby San Francisco has become a magnet for the tech industry and their wealthy employees, the accelerated displacement of working class people has rippled across the Bay Area.
Under California law, squatters may have a right to a property, but first they have to maintain a home (but not necessarily living in it full-time) for at least five years. In December, Moms 4 Housing filed a right of possession claim to the house, but the judge ruled against them and ordered the sheriff’s office to evict. Oakland Community Land Trust offered to buy the house on behalf of the moms, but Wedgewood Properties only offered Moms 4 Housing to pay for moving costs and two months rent for temporary housing.
The investment company has claimed they will work with a non-profit, Shelter 37, to renovate the home “giving opportunities to at-risk Oakland youths and splitting the profits with the non-profit so that other youths may benefit.”
Developers routinely make deals with sell-out non-profits to feign concern for community well-being while forcibly removing people from their homes and pitting the poor and working class against each other. Developers worked similarly in Austin last year, partnering with homelessness non-profit, ECHO, to convert existing housing for workers and students into units dedicated to housing the homeless, as apartments await demolition for the massive Domain on Riverside luxury project.
Previously, a representative for Wedgewood had stated “flipping houses creates better neighborhoods,” not hiding their disdain for working class residents.
Before the house was occupied, a deposit scam was being run at 2928 Magnolia, in which three different families had put down deposits of $3,500 each to rent the house, only to have their checks cashed and never heard from the real estate agent again.
The Wedgewood spokesman, in response to the arrests, said the “illegal occupation ended peacefully,” while the chief of police stated, “We made tremendous steps to make sure we did not look like a militarized force.” The bourgeoisie and the police as their protectors will never acknowledge their violence against the masses as such— to them it is a necessity to protect private property.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Mayor Libby Schaaf claimed to be “shocked” by the militarized police force, which she oversees as mayor: “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.”
Politicians like Schaaf know enough to pander to people who are outraged by police repression, but will never do anything to actually protect the working class from this type of violence. On Wednesday, as they went to retrieve belongings, the mothers reported that road construction was being carried out on Magnolia St, an unlikely coincidence and another example of ruling class use of state power to deter rebellion.
Moms 4 Housing took progressive, bold actions by reclaiming a home that was taken away from working class people by a bourgeois investment company. However, they ultimately rested their strategy on seeking legal loopholes to remain in the house.
The bourgeois law governs capitalist property relations, which are further enforced through police repression, and cannot be counted on as the foundation for mass movements against oppression. In the long-term, bourgeois violence cannot be countered with legal maneuvering, appeals to morality, or stopped with dogmatic non-violence, but must be combated with the organized force of working people resisting with justified, revolutionary violence.