|JAILED AND TORTURED FOR NEEDING A PLACE TO STAY
On Saturday, April 15th, the activists occupying the building gathered supporters and walked towards the house located at the corner of T and 9th streets in DC's Shaw neighborhood. Police stormed the backyard immediately but doors were slammed shut in their faces, and barricades raised inside.
The squatters negotiated the release of over half the occupants, but those who remained inside were brutally removed from the building within the hour.
While supporters and former occupants faced down police outside, chanting "homes not jails" and "we won't go," the five women and four men inside were dragged out spread eagle by cops. The women were illegally searched by the all-male police squad, and one (a juvenile) was left to sit in a puddle of water with her shirt up,exposing her breasts. A male squatter was repeatedly kicked in the face by the cop who was carrying him out, as the cop taunted him, saying "stop hitting my shoe." Another woman was choked until blue in the face, with the very bandanna she had covered her face with, as an officer laughed saying, "Billy the Kid died a long time ago."
The activists were taken to three different jails and denied such necessities as food, lawyers, and often, bathrooms and water. They were threatened with strip-searching and told they had felony charges which turned out to be an outright lie. The few who chose not to give their names or any other information (a right protected by the Constitutions fourth amendment), were singled out and not told what their charges would be. The Jane and John Doe's were told they would remain in jail for months, and that they would be raped and abused by the "animals," meaning the general population of prisoners. When they were taken to the federal courthouse, they were told that the U.S. Marshals could "do whatever they wanted" and no one would ever know. The Marshals told the women they would not be strip-searched, but then took them into a room and closed the door. The Marshals then told the women to drop their pants and underwear.
The court date for sentencing is June 28th. The activists face up to a year in prison and a $1000 fine. If they fail to appear in court, all get slapped with a federal warrant which applies in every state. All of this for living in a building that no one was using, a building that still had electricity and water, and was newly renovated. The DC area has thousands of such buildings sitting empty whiile families live on the streets and in emergency shelters.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND ON HOUSING ACTIVISM
The housing crisis is not unique to Washington DC. All over the United States, an economic boom is changing the way the upper and upper-middle class live. They have plenty of money and leisure time, time to enjoy the art made by people who can often still hardly afford to live. These upper class people have been seeded with the desire to live the "hip life," in renovated lofts in urban areas, close to exciting bars and art galleries.
The cool, arty city lifestyle is represented by the media in films and on television (Felicity moved to New York, why don't you?). The yuppies are coming back to the cities in droves from the suburbs. Where do they all go?
First the yuppie areas become overcrowded. Then they move on to the neighborhoods they know best: the ones where they spend their weekends, where their favorite art galleries and bars are located. Once all the lofts and renovated homes there have been filled, and all the artists have been forced into more run-down parts of town (often Black and Latino populated), the yuppies move in total desperation, taking their urban dreams into slum spots with one or two fancy loft properties. It's the pattern we've all seen before: those with money remove those without. But, sometimes, it happens so fast that the lower income families have no where left to go, as all the nieghborhoods in the city have seen this rapid re-entry. This is what happened in DC. The city was forced to open emergency shelters to house all the families that they evicted from their homes. The houses they were evicted from sit waiting for rich families to move from the suburbs, from Virginia and Maryland. Can these people spend the rest of their lives in shelters, sleeping on cots and taking humiliating mass showers? No. Can they "just move out to the country" to make more room for the yuppies in the city? No. Besides, even if you could just pick up your life and family and re-adjust to an alien atmosphere, why should you have to?
The people of DC have a viable option for housing. They have the chance to refuse this system of removal, and take their homes back. It's called squatting, and the more people do it, the stonger a support system they have.
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