Portland protesters occupy street in bid to stop eviction of family of color

<span>Photograph: Nathan Howard/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Nathan Howard/Getty Images

Dozens of protesters have been occupying a street in Portland, Oregon, surrounded by makeshift barriers, in an effort to keep a Black and Indigenous family from being evicted from the home they have lived in for 65 years.

The home, known as the Red House, sits in a historically Black residential neighborhood that has since gentrified. It has been the site of protests for several months, after a judge authorized the Kinney family’s eviction in September.

But the situation came to a head early Tuesday morning, when Michael “Philo” Kinney, who currently lives at the house, said he was woken up to law enforcement agents using a battering ram on the door.

Kinney told the Guardian that he was charged with trespassing and held by police for several hours. But by the time he returned, protesters had pushed law enforcement away from the house.

In videos shared across social media, protesters can be seen on Tuesday yelling for police to leave the area, with some kicking and banging on a Portland police vehicle.

Kinney explained that he sees his fight as going beyond protecting his family from being turfed out in the middle of a pandemic and a statewide eviction moratorium.

Protesters near the Red House on Thursday.
Protesters near the Red House on Thursday. Photograph: Nathan Howard/Getty Images

“It’s a fight against systemic racism and gentrification that’s been going on for years,” he said.

He added: “My family comes from this land and to see it taken without right and by gunpoint… It’s outrageous to me.”

On Tuesday evening, Portland’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, tweeted that he is “authorizing the Portland police to use all lawful means to end the illegal occupation on North Mississippi Avenue and to hold those violating our community’s laws accountable”.

He added: “There will be no autonomous zone in Portland.”

Wheeler did acknowledge the racism behind many of the country’s “systems and structures” and the reform that is needed, but said in this situation “there was a lengthy, thorough judicial proceeding resulting in a lawful judge’s order to evict people illegally occupying a home”.

According to the website Red House On Mississippi, the house was built in 1896 and is now considered the neighborhood’s oldest standing home.

After purchasing it in 1955, the Kinney family took out a loan against the house in early 2000, which Julie Metcalf Kinney, Michael “Philo” Kinney’s mother, described during a press conference on Wednesday as a “predatory loan”. The loan was transferred several times between companies, and in 2018 Clear Recon Corporation initiated the process to foreclose on the home.

According to the Multnomah county, Oregon, property records, the house is currently owned by the Urban Housing Development LLC, a construction company in Portland.

In November, after a series of failed legal battles, the family filed a formal request to the US Supreme Court to examine this case. A response from the court is due by December 23.

The house today is surrounded by businesses and condos, and Julie Metcalf Kinney said she remembers seeing those that were in the neighborhood when she was raising her children get cleared out.

“Many of the community members that were here then, all of their families have lost their homes that were in this neighborhood,” she said.

Coya Crespin, an organizer at the Red House and an organizer from Community Alliance of Tenants, said during the Wednesday press conference that they were witnessing gentrification taking place.

Layers of chainlink fence and wood block the north entry to the Red House.
Layers of chainlink fence and wood block the north entry to the Red House. Photograph: Nathan Howard/Getty Images

“Across the nation, this is happening to families and we refuse to stand by while our elected officials pretend to ignore and allow the police who are paid to protect and serve us, continue to carry out eviction,” she said.

The Portland police chief, Chuck Lovell, said in a statement on Wednesday that they were greatly concerned with the situation, but want to see a peaceful resolution.

Seemab Hussaini, a community organizer and Muslim community leader, spent Tuesday night camped out outside the Red House and said at one point there were as many as 500 people. He described a space featuring a medics station, free food, coffee and clothing, as well as security on the zone’s perimeter.

This is not the first Pacific north-west city to have an occupied zone. Seattle was home to an occupied zone known as the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or “Chop”, for about two months over the summer. It emerged organically following a series of dangerous clashes between protesters and law enforcement during marches against police brutality sparked by the killing of George Floyd, an African American, by a white police officer, in Minneapolis in May.