- Mothers and activists with a local advocacy group called Moms 4 Housing had been illegally occupying a vacant home in Oakland, California, to protest the city’s housing crisis.
- Alameda County officers, armed with riot gear, an armored vehicle, and a robot evicted and arrested four protesters associated with the group early Tuesday morning.
- The dramatic faceoff drew widespread community support for the moms’ cause, and highlighted the negative ripple effects of Silicon Valley’s expanding workforce on working-class California natives.
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Just before dawn broke on Tuesday, Alameda County law enforcement officers arrived at a single-family residence in Oakland, California, armed with riot gear, a ballistic vehicle, and a robot to evict two homeless mothers and two activists.
Officers rammed down the barricaded doors of the three-bedroom home on Magnolia Street, then had a robot enter the property to assess any danger before deputies entered to arrest the group of housing advocates who had been illegally occupying the home.
Officers with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office arrested local advocacy group Moms 4 Housing activists Misty Cross and Tolani King, who had been living inside the house, as well as supporters Jesse Turner and Walter Baker, on misdemeanor resisting and obstructing charges. Their children, who had also been living in the home, weren’t there when the arrests took place.
As officers took them away, large crowds chanted “shame on you.”
“Today, this morning, the sheriffs came in. They came in like an army for mothers and babies,” Dominique Walker, an occupant of the home and founding member of Moms 4 Housing, told KPIX 5. She was not home at the time of the eviction and was the only occupant who was not arrested.
— Jackie Ward (@JackieKPIX) January 14, 2020
“I’m angry that my sisters are in handcuffs. Our supporters are in handcuffs right now, all because we have the right to housing,” she said. “This movement is just beginning, and we see what we’re up against. But we also see what they are afraid of. They’re afraid of us mobilizing 300 people in 15 minutes. That’s what we did.”
In a press conference after the eviction, Sgt. Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office assured viewers that “no force was used” when arresting the protesters. Although the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office typically conducts evictions during business hours, he said deputies decided to go early to “avoid confrontation” with community supporters who had gathered around the home on Monday and the week prior.
“We had to think outside the box a little bit, because this was not your typical eviction that we routinely do,” Kelly said in a press conference following their eviction, saying that the “militarized” force that arrived on the scene was for officers’ safety.
— Indybay (@Indybay) January 14, 2020
Silicon Valley workforce is driving Oakland’s housing crisis
The house on Magnolia Street has become a flashpoint of the worsening housing crisis driven by the rapid expansion and gentrification of Silicon Valley, which is forcing working-class natives out of their neighborhoods and their homes. According to the Mercury News, Oakland’s homeless population has grown by 47% since 2017.
Moms 4 Housing members took over the empty home to call attention to the skyrocketing homelessness rates and the practice of real estate speculators buying homes and leaving them empty, while Oakland natives are forced out on the streets. Walker, 34, and Moms 4 Housing member Sameerah Karim, 41, were experiencing homelessness when they moved into the home with their children in November.
“No one should be homeless when homes are sitting empty. Housing is a human right,” a statement on the Moms 4 Housing website reads. “The Moms for Housing are uniting mothers, neighbors, and friends to reclaim housing for the Oakland community from the big banks and real estate speculators.”
Their demonstration garnered widespread community support and local media attention after the property’s owner, real-estate firm Wedgewood Properties, appealed for an eviction, which a judge granted last week. Wedgewood Properties purchased the West Oakland home for $501,078 in a foreclosure hearing in July 2019 after it had been unoccupied for two years, local news station KPIX 5 reported.
‘Fix and Flip’ company accused of evicting working-class families
This is what an eviction looks like. @moms4housing got a text from a neighbor this afternoon that Wedgewood had hired people to toss their things on the wet sidewalk. Crew of supporters here with the moms to help pack up the furniture, clothes, and kids toys. pic.twitter.com/CP5bA33gq9
— Molly Solomon (@solomonout) January 15, 2020
The company, which had previously been referred to as the biggest “fix and flip” company by its CEO Greg Geiser, was previously embroiled in a scandal evicting a working-class family in Rialto, California in 2016.
According to a HuffPost article from the time, Geiser said the company purchased about “250 foreclosed or about-to-be-foreclosed homes a month” at a real-estate conference. According to the company’s website, its “residential improvement business” is the “backbone” of its enterprise and the firm operates throughout the Western US and Florida.
According to a spokesman from Wedgewood Properties, the homeless moms began occupying the home two days before the company acquired legal possession of the property. After a months-long appeal to evict the Moms 4 Housing advocates, a spokesman from the company said the company was “pleased that the illegal occupation of our Oakland home ended peacefully.”
The company had previously offered to donate money to a local Catholic Charities group to house the homeless moms occupying the home – an offer one of the mothers called an “insult,” according to KPIX 5.
“Wedgewood is sympathetic to the plight of the homeless and is a major contributor to those that are homeless and underprivileged. We respect what [Moms 4 Housing] were standing for, but cannot condone the theft of anyone’s property,” a spokesperson told Insider.
Moms 4 Housing inspires a movement with nonviolent civil disobedience
Although the advocates have been evicted from the home, Walker told KPIX 5 that the house was a “statement on what needs to happen in Oakland” and a “victory.”
“We’ve heard from people all over the world who are inspired by our nonviolent civil disobedience. We’ve built a movement of thousands of Oaklanders who showed up at a moment’s notice to reject police violence and advocate for homes for families,” Walker told KPIX 5 in a statement.
After the arrest of Moms 4 Housing members and supporters, a GoFundMe campaign was started on Tuesday to help raise money for their bail money. The group has raised more than $40,000 since it was started on. All four of the individuals arrested Tuesday were released later in the evening.
“This isn’t over, and it won’t be over until everyone in the Oakland community has a safe and dignified place to live,” Walker added.