Questions of Race & Resistance – Oakland house squat evicted

Recently here in Oakland I got a call from one of my comrade’s squats. After 7 months of residency with little yet positive interactions from the buildings actual on-paper owners, the day had come when the owners decided it was time for everyone to go.

The community had been called via a phone tree, and I think the collective expectation in all our minds was a battle with the police. Banners had been prepared, and almost everyone was ready.

But when the supporters arrived at the scene, we learned that there are some things that us anarchists here in Oakland just hadn’t considered.

The owners, a black, Muslim family, had come and called the police. When the police came, they told the owners that they needed to file an eviction notice with the court and left shortly after. Following their departure, the owners, by now very angry, took matters into their own hands. They threw items out of the house, tore up plants in the yard, assaulted people multiple times with their feet, plates, bookshelves and fists, as well as attacking the folks outside with video cameras who had originally intended on doing cop-watching.

It was a couple hours of chaos. The squatters and supporters inside attempted soft barricades and ran around in confusion. At one point they did a banner drop that seemed pretty inappropriate for the situation, since it had been intended for the cops. The folks outside stood around in equal confusion. Some talked to the home owners about the situation, some got in arguments with them, some gawked from across the street, some took the squatters possession and animal companions to safe spaces, and a lot just didn’t know what to do or what to feel.

Racial tensions arose from both sides. The owners expressed a lot racist sentiment for the white squatters, while I witnessed a couple supporters say racist things themselves. One supporter, when asked by a black neighbor what was going on, responded “You peopleā€¦” and proceeded to assume the neighbor was one of the owners and accuse them of assault. Multiple squatters and supporters criticized the family for wearing gold, saying that by wearing it they were oppressing “their own people”.

At one point the squatters themselves called the police. The police once again told the owners that they needed to file an eviction notice, and one of the supporters that had been inside pressed charges against one of the owners, who the police took away to jail. I am not sure, but the word was that he was cited and released.

Shortly after the police left the remaining owners left as well. In the couple of weeks following, owners would drive by multiple times in a day, and at one point assaulted one of the squatters on their way back home.

Eventually the owners showed up with baseball bats while only a couple of the squatters were home. The squatters had-had enough of the violence and left the house. It is now empty with no trespassing signs on the doors and windows.

Although this is an extremely brief summary of what happened that day, what happened has brought up a lot of questions about race and resistance.

This house was owned by a black family in a predominantly black neighborhood. It was abandoned for 13 years while owned by the family, and the owners had no intentions to inhabit it. It was squatted by predominantly young, white radicals. There was racism on both sides.

One of the first questions with this squat is: is this gentrification, and should the squatters have been more considerate to this in the first place? The squatters were doing things for their immediate community, like fixing bikes for the neighborhood children. They had support from their immediate neighbors and were giving advice to the ones in danger of foreclosure. But what is more important, helping the neighbors or the squatters being sensitive to their contribution to gentrification? And it’s important to keep in mind that in the neighborhood in question, West Oakland, there is an abundance of radical houses with young white inhabitants.

White privilege needs to be addressed. If the house had been squatted by people of color, would the police have not asked for an eviction notice? What if the owners were a white family? How could squatters in this type of situation address their privilege?

Another question is: is it okay for squatters to occupy a building when the owners, who are a family and not a bank, are ready to reclaim their property? Anarchists have a lot of rhetoric about how property is theft, and how private property is fucked up and no one should own land. If property owners are claiming the house, then they are saying it’s their property and theirs alone. When squatters claim a building, are they doing the same as the owners? Both have justifications as to why it’s theirs. Is one justification right and the other wrong? Are they both right, or both wrong?

A big issue from this experience was the decision to call the police. The owners called them the first time. As a black family, they did not get support from the police, which is unfortunately common for most people of color. The family then took action independently to reclaim their property. They made decisions independent of the state to try to physically intimidate people out of the building. I am not condoning the violence against the squatters and supporters, a lot of them were my friends and allies and it hurts me to have them hurt. I am not supporting pulling up the vegetable plants from the garden or throwing peoples bikes off of the second floor. But we as anarchists for the most part agree that we need to find ways to live our lives without turning to the police for support, and once the police didn’t help the family, they collectively found a way to reach their goals themselves.

The next time the police came; it was the anarchists that had called. This was a controversial issue within our community, for various reasons. The most obvious, why are anarchists calling the police? Are there times when it is acceptable for us to turn to the state for assistance?

Since the family had called and was willing to have people arrested, was it okay for the folks in the house to fight with the same tools as the family? If someone has a gun, you would probably rather have a gun as opposed to a knife. If the squatters had physically fought back, they would have been arrested. It’s also important to note that the family had brought children with them, and the squatters and supporters were very uncomfortable with the idea of fighting back with these kids’ parents.

I personally still don’t know what my feelings are about this, and I think a lot of the people involved feel the same way. Physical assault is a serious and traumatic thing, and I think it’s very important to support any victim of assault. The environment at the time was so chaotic it doesn’t appear that the folks on the inside had the ability to really get together and make a collective decision.

I feel that after going through this experience, it is really important that radical folks, especially in urban, multiracial areas, start pondering these questions and making personal decisions. Such as, is it ever okay to call the police? I’m sure there are a variety of different answers to the question. My personal feelings are no. I feel as radical folks, we need to do more expansive thinking and discussion on problem solving. One thing that will be more helpful to actions such as this one in the future is to spend the time before the action thinking of the possibilities and worst case scenarios and making a collective plan for all of them. It is best to be as prepared as possible, especially since in a bind an affinity group may not be able to make collective decisions.

And how should we treat our allies when they make decisions we don’t necessarily support. Here in Oakland the responses have been mixed. Some folks have
completely turned their backs on the people involved in this particular situation and said that they are snitches. Some don’t think we should write someone off as a bad person or a snitch for calling the pigs under pressure. And others are completely supportive of the decisions made that day by the people involved.

It’s very easy for a community to become divided, but I think through sensitivity and honest communication we can keep a community strong.

Stop police killing in Oakland & Beyond

Police Targeting of People of Color in Oakland

When Oscar Grant III was murdered by BART transit police on January 1, 2009, Oakland residents and allies expressed their outrage with multiple demonstrations and riots. The community had had enough of police profiling, brutality, and murders of people of color.

But Oscar Grant was not the only one to die at the hands of the police, and it’s important that we demand justice for all the victims. In recent years the Bay Area has seen too much blood spilled. Here in Oakland some examples of people murdered by the police are Jody “Mack” Woodfox III (who was killed by police and unarmed), Andrew Moppin (who had a warrant for not paying BART fare and was unarmed), Anita Gay (who was drunk in her home and unarmed), Derrick Jones (who owned a barber shop and was unarmed), Kerry Baxter (who was beaten to death by the two cops who had been involved in his earlier wrongful prosecution in court), Obataiye Edwards (who was 19 years old), Fred Collins (who was shot by at least five cops), Parnell Smith (who supposedly fit the description of a rape suspect), just to name a few. Then there’s Jelvon Helton from San Francisco (who was shot while celebrating the Giants victory this year), Guy Jarreau Jr in Vallejo (who was doing security for a video shoot), and Leanord Bradley Jr. in Richmond (who was shot in the yard of a high school), to list a couple more in the surrounding Oakland area. And it’s not a specific Bay Area issue; it’s happening everywhere.

There is also now a new gang injunction in the North Oakland neighborhood. It’s designated to target 19 specific gang members in designated “safe zones” of the city, but the reality of the injunction is that it criminalizes everyday activities of anyone suspected of being a gang member, meaning black and Hispanic youths. There are gang injunctions in other places, like San Francisco and Los Angeles, which have proven to be unsuccessful and racist.

Despite the blatant racist and brutal actions of the Oakland Police, people are taking matters into their own hands to protect their communities. People in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland have created a People Patrol, a group of sober, unarmed people who patrol neighborhoods for police stops and monitor them to make sure the cops do nothing illegal. There are also Copwatch groups in Oakland and Berkeley which monitor police activity and educate people about their rights. Protests are frequently happening against the gang injunctions, the murder of Oscar Grant, and the murder of Derrick Jones. Local unions are organizing as well as supporting a lot of these actions. Street art is abundant and beautiful, addressing and educating viewers on the issues at hand. Papers like the San Francisco Bayview do continuous research to keep people up to date and offer a refreshing alternative to the other local news sources. This cruel racism and abuse by the police has got to stop, and it will take support and action from all of us to accomplish that.