A SWAT team supplied with tanks and a Bearcat armored vehicle evicted a group of homeless activists on Tuesday morning after they refused to leave an Oakland, California, residence that they do not own.
Dressed in riot gear, deputies from the Alameda County Sheriff's Office arrived at the house on Magnolia Street around 5:30 a.m. Officers used a battering ram to enter the residence and arrested three squatters for obstruction and resisting arrest after they reportedly refused to leave the home. The targets of the raid were members of Moms 4 Housing, a group that describes itself as a "collective of homeless and marginally housed mothers" who believe that housing is a fundamental human right.
Protesters criticized the deputies and juxtaposed what they perceived as an unnecessary display of force—replete with military vehicles—against a group of peaceful activists. "They came in like an Army for mothers and babies," Dominique Walker, a leader at Moms 4 Housing, said. "We have the right to housing. This is just the beginning."
Sgt. Ray Kelly justified the approach to the eviction, telling the Fox affiliate that projectiles were hurled at the officers and that the activists' barricade was fortified enough to require a battering ram. He also said that he recognized "violent" individuals in the crowd from previous Bay Area protests.
According to SFist, Walker, a 34-year-old single mother, moved into the residence after leaving Mississippi and returning to Oakland, where she is from, only to find that the housing prices had drastically increased. So she and several other mothers set up shop in the vacant house without permission from the owner—in part because of their financial situations, and in part out of protest.
"I feel like it's absolutely necessary, because I believe we're so desensitized that we don't even think twice now about [homeless] encampments," she told the San Francisco Chronicle. "[Housing costs are] an issue and it needs to be addressed." Walker, who was not arrested on Tuesday, said she resents the notion that property management companies are purchasing homes from poorer tenants, flipping them, and then letting them sit vacant before selling them to wealthier buyers.
Wedgewood Properties, which owns the house, recently announced that they will renovate the home with the help of a nonprofit that employs at-risk youth. "Wedgewood is pleased the illegal occupation of its Oakland home has ended peacefully," said spokesperson Sam Slinger. "That is what the company has sought since the start." They previously "urge[d] the squatters to leave voluntarily and peacefully" without assistance from the police.
But those activists did not comply. Kelly says that he may bill Wedgewood for the raid, which cost tens of thousands of dollars to execute.
Such a militaristic approach to policing is not only exorbitantly expensive, but also further destroys trust between cops and those living in any given community. That cost comes without a corresponding benefit: It doesn't improve safety. To the contrary, it often leads to heightened escalation in nonthreatening situations. But Moms 4 Housing squatters similarly took things too far, trouncing on legal property rights and oversimplifying a complex issue. Homelessness, while worthy of our empathy, is better solved by increasing housing supply through reducing regulations and cutting zoning restrictions. Illegally squatting, alternatively, is not a solution that will yield long-term gains for those who most need affordable housing.