After years of trying to negotiate with JP Morgan Chase, Sergio and Jonathan Ceballos got a 24-hour notice to vacate yesterday from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department. JPMorgan Chase Bank fought hard for the small house in South Minneapolis, dual-tracking the Ceballos family and rushing them through eviction court. Now, our public servants are tasked with carrying out the banks’ final order: forcefully evict the Ceballos family.
But what if the sheriffs refused to carry out the order? The only crime Sergio Ceballos has committed is staying in his home, which he is able and willing to pay for. He’s a valued member of a community devastated by the foreclosure crisis. His would be the third vacant house on the block. If law enforcement officials ignored banks’ order to evict, it would literally make the community stronger, more stable and less prone to crime, if the sheriffs refused to enforce this law on this family.
Last year, during the Cruz house eviction, Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis spent over $40,000 of taxpayer money defending the home for Freddie Mac--only to let it sit empty for a year. Occupy Homes has consistently called for an end to public resources to evict families in foreclosure, citing the numerous cases of illegal and fraudulent practices committed by the big banks. Some say there’s no alternative, but the truth is that using public servants for unjust evictions is far from inevitable.
There are important examples Hennepin County could look to for guidance. In 2009, in Wayne County (surrounding Detroit) and Cook County (surrounding Chicago), facing immense pressure from communities outraged by Wall Street’s policies, sheriffs refused to carry out evictions on families whose lenders committed fraud during the excesses of the housing bubble.
In reference to his decision to stop carrying out evictions, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart stated, "We will no longer be a party to something that's so unjust. We have to be sure that when we are doing this--and we are destroying some people's lives--we better be darned sure we're talking about the right people."
If Hennepin County Sheriffs and the Minneapolis Police Department sided with the communities they “protect and serve” and refused to carry out evictions on families attempting to negotiate loan modifications with their banks, it would create a de facto foreclosure moratorium. This would provide the opportunity for residents facing foreclosure to organize a broad political movement for housing justice, without facing law enforcement kicking down the door.
Unfortunately Hennepin County officials refuse to acknowledge their role in the foreclosure crisis, even though they auction houses and carry out evictions. Banks routinely refuse to work with families who want to negotiate - who are able to pay market value for their homes - or string them along in a deceptive process called “dual tracking.” The foreclosure process goes ahead, and our law enforcement resources eventually become a taxpayer funded enforcement wing for the very Wall Street banks that are undermining the stability of our communities. Isolated stands by individual sheriffs are not a winning strategy against Wall Street banks, but these sheriffs’ efforts to intervene in the housing crisis give community-based housing justice movements an important tool. At the very least, it can take away an important tool from the banks.
Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis constantly site the need to “enforce the law” as an excuse to continue carrying out evictions. This reflects an elementary understanding of the legal system. How energetically laws are enforced and crimes are investigated is a question of priorities. Wall Street banks commit the crime of defrauding millions, and get away with it; families commit the crime of wanting to stay in their house, and risk officers kicking in their door.
In any society, laws reflect the values of those in power. If Hennepin County Sheriffs or Minneapolis Police Officers evict the Ceballos family, they can give many reasons for why they did it, but they can never claim it was an act of justice.