This is a report back from the eviction of Omari Tahir-Garrett from his home, the UMOJA Peace Center (a community based cultural center). I was in and out throughout the day, so consider these a few snapshots and not the whole story.
On Wednesday morning, the eviction began. By the time I arrived the work crews had already begun clearing the side yard and had entered the house. The yard had seemed to be occupied by a few encampments fringed by decorations and political signs. We watched the excavator bite into and crush one grill after another. They also cleared piles of garbage which – the neighborhood knew - the developer had dumped there to make the place seem in disrepair.
Each attempt the police and work crews made to move forward was met with pushback from the small but growing crowd. People lined up around the yard to prevent construction fences from going up, blocked the way of the clean-up crews removing Omari’s possessions from the house, sang and chanted and made speeches. With twenty or so people and little coordination (as far as direct action), the most that was achievable was a slow-down of the work day. In what looked a lot like a line of scrimmage, the police and the protesters pushed against each other, fighting for every inch of the fence line.
The police and their dogs searched the house for Omari and came up empty handed. The crowd outside knew that this 70-year-old man was inside somewhere, hiding. I liked the almost mythical idea of him inside, tricking the police and confusing everyone.
The singing continued: “I can hear my neighbor crying ‘I can’t breathe’ / Now I’m in the struggle and I can’t leave / Calling out the violence of the racist police / We ain’t gonna stop until the people are free”
When I returned later, the rally had grown to 75 people, sprawling over the intersection. At this point, most people were gathered around the loaded dump truck, preventing it from leaving the property. Everyone was chanting for the driver to “take the keys and walk away.” Work was certainly at a standstill.
The police ordered the crowd to disperse several times, in response to which people held their ground and pulled out their cameras and Maalox. The police approached in a line with their bikes out to create a wall. And the protest pushed back, people calling pertinent information to each other, badge numbers, helping each other off of the ground, screaming crazy shit. Eventually the line broke when the police made an arrest of a black woman. Fucking pigs.
Overall, people did a really good job of pushing at every step of the way, considering a pretty small capacity. I was inspired by the amount of courage people brought to the eviction, which I think speaks to the resonance of the situation. There was an outpouring of emotion from people in the crowd, especially in rage at the police.
At the end I left with some questions: How can we get ahead of the police instead of reacting to their actions? What if, instead of watching for the raid, people had already been occupying the property? What skills or materials could we share to allow a small group of people to have a larger impact or take larger risks? We will likely encounter more need for emergency raid responses in the future – How can we respond quickly, creatively and powerfully?
For more context see this article posted yesterday.