U.S. Marshals breach Occupy Our Homes blockade, evict DC tenant

by The Lucie and John Zangas

Activists with Occupy Our Homes DC blockaded the entrance to Dawn Butler’s home in Washington, DC today in an effort to prevent U.S. Marshals from evicting her. The “eviction defense” resulted in a dramatic and sometimes violent confrontation between activists and law enforcement in which the front door was ripped from its hinges and several people were injured.

Occupy Our Homes DC took up the case of Dawn Butler, a tenant in northeast DC whose landlord has been foreclosed on by Chase Bank. By blocking the path of marshals, Occupy Our Homes intended to delay them long enough for Butler’s lawyer to obtain a stay of eviction in court. This is the second time that Occupy Our Homes, part of Occupy DC, has “defended” Butler’s home.  On April 2, Occupy Our Homes successfully intervened and prevented the Butler family from being evicted.

Although preparations were last-minute–the eviction order was only issued late the previous afternoon–Occupy Our Homes managed early Tuesday morning to hang a banner saying, “Eviction Free Zone” and erect a large barricade made of milk crates, to which three activists secured themselves with PVC piping.

Marshals didn’t seem to expect the blockade. They conferred for almost an hour and a half as more than 20 more officers, additional vehicles and a K-9 unit arrived. Movers hired by mortgage-holder JP Morgan Chase milled about on the sidewalk. When armed marshals forcefully moved in at 10:15am, they ordered protestors to step aside. After a locksmith removed the gate lock, officers struggled with Eli Greer, who had tied himself to the gate, then wrestled him onto the lawn along with several others.

A violent confrontation ensued as officers rushed the barricade, tugging at it until the door was ripped from its hinges. Protestor Ryan Lash was thrown down the steps, suffering scrapes and bruises to his side. Marc Smith was knocked unconscious and lay on the sidewalk for several minutes before being transported to the hospital by ambulance. One U.S. Marshal sustained a head wound when the flying front door hit him in the head.

“There was a lot of yelling,” organizer Sophie Vick said. “A lot of the protestors were roughed up.” No one was arrested; U.S. Marshals have no jurisdiction to make arrests. Chanting “Homes Not Banks!” and other slogans, protestors taunted officers throughout the eviction. An antsy marshal brandished a taser during the height of the confusion, and later another stood guard on the lawn with an M-4 rifle.

Hired workers removed Butler’s personal belongings in totes and plastics bags. Her mother, Anne, remained remarkably calm all morning, saying she believed they would ultimately prevail. Her composure was only disrupted momentarily when the sound of broken glass was heard from shifting piles of belongings lining the sidewalk. She lamented the breakage of antique sake glasses.

Occupy Our Homes DC has been working with several area residents to prevent wrongful foreclosures and evictions. Occupy DC legal counsels have represented Butler at the DC Superior Housing Court proceedings, which began in 2008 when she attempted to buy the home from her landlord, who had gone into foreclosure. Under the right of first refusal, District residents have the right to buy a property in which they already live.

More photos of the eviction here.