“Housing is a human right” is the call from the group of Black and brown women who call themselves “Moms 4 Housing”. Tuesday morning around 5:15 a.m, a two-month-long standoff around housing rights ended when deputies, with an armored truck, battering ram, and a tactical robot arrived at the 2928 Magnolia St. property to forcefully remove (and arrest) several of the women, their children, and their supporters.
Moms 4 Housing is a collective of houseless and marginally housed mothers. Their website says, “Before we found each other, we felt alone in this struggle. But there are thousands of others like us here in Oakland and all across the Bay Area. We are coming together with the ultimate goal of reclaiming housing for the community from speculators and profiteers.”
The situation around houselessness in California is dire. As the most populous state in the U.S, California saw the largest spike to its houseless crisis in 2019 (an increase of 21,306 people). As rent costs spiked to keep pace with the growth of Silicon Valley, the number of houseless persons in Oakland, specifically, grew by 47% between 2017 and 2019 (4,071 people, according to the city’s biennial point-in-time count.) This courageous group of mothers blew the roof off of *who* has been directly affected by Oakland’s houselessness crisis—- poor working-class Black and brown families. After all, this is a city that once leveled entire communities of color with military tanks in order to build BART and a Federal Post Office in the 1960s.
Members of Moms 4 Housing, and their children, moved into the empty, investor-owned house on Nov. 18, 2019. Occupying an abandoned or unoccupied area of land or a building, usually residential, is known as squatting—- which is illegal. What these women’s actions have brought forward are questions around “legality” and “private property”. Why is it ‘legal’ for banks and investors to displace families yet ‘illegal’ for those displaced families to demand the right to be housed?
Currently, Oakland has 5,898 vacant homes. There are an additional 21,788 seasonal or occasional-use houses in the Bay Area (vacation homes and suspected air bnbs), Why shouldn’t these poor working-class Black and Brown women demand housing?
In this struggle, which quickly erupted into the start of a movement, the owner of the home, real estate investment company Wedgewood, lost the eviction suit and Moms 4 Housing members’ right to be housed was recognized by the courts. Immediately after serving the women the dismissed eviction notice, Wedgewood revealed plans to use the house for a project with Los Angeles-based nonprofit Shelter 37. The plans included Shelter 37 renovating the house, using local workers (ages 18 to 35) who need a “second chance” and may have a hard time finding work elsewhere, so that it can be sold on the open market, with priority given to first-time buyers.
A nonprofit that works with children and young adults whose lives have been affected by crime, violence or abandonment was willing to and did stand behind big real estate and big banks to displace poor marginalized mothers and their children for profit. They wanted them out so the property can be put to use “helping disadvantaged local young people”, even offering to pay for the women’s moving expenses. Not much longer after the plans were announced, an Alameda County judge ruled the women had no right to the home and ordered the sheriff’s office to evict them within five days
And did they ever.
Before dawn, a fully armed militarized police force showed up to remove the members of Moms 4 Housing and their children from the property. Misty Cross and Tolani King, who had been living in the house and refused to leave, alongside supporters Jesse Turner and Walter Baker were arrested. The four were booked into Santa Rita Jail on misdemeanor charges of resisting and obstructing the eviction. Their bail was set at $5,000 and they were released that afternoon.
While the story of the mothers fight to be housed did not spread too far outside of activists, organizers, and local supporters sharing the story, holding rallies and press conferences, the imagery of a militarized police force showing up to the residence to displace mothers and their children has caused a wave of reaction over the internet.
Many have commented on the obscene use of force, but what the commentary has exposed is a mass ignorance of the existing nature of policing in this country. What those mothers experienced is not an anomaly, it is the norm across the country thanks to the Department of Defense’s 1033 program, which provides military-grade weapons and vehicles to local police departments, and the deadly exchange training between Israel Defense Force (IDF) and local US police departments.
On average, 124 heavily armed SWATs are deployed each day, overwhelmingly in Black neighborhoods. The majority were merely for drug searches rather than for hostage or “terrorist” situations. A 2400% increase in weapons transfers during the Obama administration years has allowed for this. In 2014, the year that “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” and “I Can’t Breathe!” became cemented in our lexicons, 32 members of the Congressional Black Caucus rejected a bill that would have shut down the 1033 program. Fast forward to today, where 7 major cities will be infected with a military police surge called ‘Operation Relentless Pursuit’.
So far, no presidential candidate on either side has made militarized local police forces a prominent platform. While general statements about bad policing are made and some may give lip service around militarized policing, there is no direct acknowledgment, condemnation nor a cohesive plan to stop the existing 1033 program, deadly exchange training program with IDF and Operation Relentless Pursuit that will surely be put to use against the most marginalized under fallacious concepts of crime—- like asserting your right to housing.
Being houseless is not an unfortunate situation, it is a situation born of purposeful and intentional systemic and systematic oppressions which then criminalizes those who find themselves without a place to live. A group of Black and brown women, alongside their children, have been criminalized for taking back a piece of a city that big banks and real estate have succeeded at pushing longtime residents out of to appease the growth of Big Tech in the area. A group of houseless Black and brown women, alongside their children, claimed one of the thousands of vacant residences in Oakland and were met with extreme violence by a militarized police force.
Colonized people in the U.S are under attack in ways not dissimilar to how colonized people are under attack by US imperialism. These atrocities are counterparts. Cops exist to protect private property and uphold the violent class antagonisms inherent to capitalism just as US military exists to protect Western interests and uphold violent hegemony inherent to capitalism. Perhaps the police are being trained to be a military force against people in America because this country can not use actual military, short of the national guard, against its citizens. The existence of the 1033 program, the deadly exchange training with the apartheid state of Israel, and Operation Relentless Pursuit give little cover to the obvious direction policing (and surveillance) has taken.
“Homelessness is violent. Poverty is violence. Hunger is violence. And this violence cannot be reinforced without the police.” – Nnennaya Amuchie
Housing Is A Right!
Oppose the Trump Domestic Surge Targeting Black People!
Stop the Department of Defense 1033 Program that Militarizes Police Forces!