Damion Willis and Antoine Martinneau, both arrested just for being in a vacant home
Sixty community members marched on the Minneapolis Police Department and City Attorney Susan Segal yesterday, protesting seven arrests in two weeks of people experiencing homelessness simply for being in otherwise vacant homes. They demanded the dismissal of all charges and a public meeting with Police Chief Janee Harteau and Susan Segal to develop a strong protocol to stop wasting public resources on evictions and ensure the safety of vulnerable residents. (Check out the video on Fox 9 News.)
Chanting “Homelessness is not a crime! Make the bankers do the time!” the community marched to the offices of Police Chief Janee Harteau and City Attorney Susan Segal, leaving behind the boards that had been left at the homes, before heading up to City Council chambers, where, joined by Council Member Alondra Cano, they called on the city to use its powers to turn these vacant homes into permanent affordable housing.
“I’ve been doing this work for over a year now and never seen this kind of aggression from the police,” said Antoine Martinneau, an Occupy Homes MN organizer who was arrested while fixing up a vacant home for a family to live in. “And they haven’t communicated to us what’s changed. As far as I can see, the only thing that’s changed is we have black people on the front lines now. They don’t like that we’re organizing. They’d rather see us lined up on the floor on a mat that hasn’t been washed in a year. They’d rather see us in jail. They’re using our tax dollars to put people on the streets. But we’ll occupy these homes until the city enacts a comprehensive solution that converts them into long-term affordable housing.”
Bringing boards to the Policy Chief and City Attorney offices
Over the past year, Occupy Homes has housed about 30 people experiencing homelessness in vacant bank-owned homes, pressuring the big banks to donate the homes to community groups for use as stable long-term housing as has happened in cities like Chicago and Boston. Nationwide, there are five vacant homes for every homeless person. In Minnesota, homelessness is at an all-time high, up 50% since 2006, while affordable housing is all but impossible to find.
This recent police aggression is an unprecedented police crackdown on Occupy Homes' year-long program to house people experiencing homelessness in abandoned bank-owned homes. The MPD has acted in violation of its own foreclosure protest protocol requiring banks to prove ownership of a foreclosed property before making any arrests, which so far has allowed 30 homeless residents to live in six reclaimed homes over the past year without fear of arrest.
“They didn’t follow their policy, they didn’t ask us to leave,” said Damion Willis, an Occupy Homes MN organizer who was arrested twice in the last two weeks. “They’re not enforcing the laws, they’re enforcing their own laws. And they’re being racist—if someone white had been in there, they would have asked them to leave, not just arrested them.”
Over the last two weeks MPD officers have systematically targeted homeless families in reclaimed homes for intimidation based on their political activity. They have used racial slurs, pointed guns at their heads, called their workplaces and made false accusations, placed handcuffs on them so tightly the marks took days to fade, and detained them in jail overnight without access to any lavatory facilities. None were given a chance to depart the premises, even though trespass charges are supposed to include this opportunity.
Jaymie Kelly: "Not a criminal"
“I’m here with a sign that says ‘Not a criminal,’ which sheriffs didn’t seem to realize when they battered my door down at five in the morning on Election Day,” said Jaymie Kelly, a homeowner in south Minneapolis whose year-long public battle against her foreclosure has garnered national attention. “The United Nations charter says that housing is a human right. We’re all part of the same struggle.”
“Come back every week if you need to,” said Council Member Alondra Cano. “I’m going to keep working to make sure people aren’t arrested without cause and have roofs over their heads.”
Council Member Alondra Cano: "Come back every week if you need to"