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Tanks & AR-15s: Moms 4 Housing Speaks Out After Militarized Eviction from Vacant Oakland House

StoryJanuary 16, 2020
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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.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

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.


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: We have to break here, but we’re going to do Part 2, and we’re going to post it online at Democracy Now! Misty Cross and Destiny, thank you so much for being with us, and Carroll Fife, director of the Oakland office of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. Thank you to Moms 4 Housing. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

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