Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler authorized Portland police to use “all lawful means” to clear protesters from a home on North Mississippi Avenue Tuesday evening. The house has been the site of protests for months as demonstrators rally against the eviction of a Black and Indigenous family.
Portland police said that officers joined the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office at 5 a.m. Tuesday in a “property mission” to return private property and “re-secure a home in which the occupants were previously ordered removed by court order.” Law enforcement arrested at least seven people Tuesday before protesters outside the home repelled law enforcement from the area.
By Tuesday evening, more than 100 demonstrators opposing the eviction had gathered outside the home and barricaded off the surrounding streets.
In a Tuesday evening Tweet, Wheeler said Portland Police had authorization “to end the illegal occupation” and disband the autonomous zone.
I am 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. There will be no autonomous zone in Portland.— Mayor Ted Wheeler (@tedwheeler) December 9, 2020
“It’s time for the encampment and occupation to end,” the mayor wrote. “There are many ways to protest and work toward needed reform. Illegally occupying private property, openly carrying weapons, threatening and intimidating people are not among them.”
According to a website for the North Portland home, the home was foreclosed on in 2018. The Kinney family, who had lived in the home for 65 years, said they paid their mortgage on time and challenged a foreclosure stemming from a web of complex maneuverings used by banks to buy and sell mortgages. The system, known as the Mortgage Electronic Registration System, has been the target of a litany of lawsuits at the state and county level across the country, including a $160 million lawsuit brought by Multnomah County.
That lawsuit was settled in mediation for $9 million in 2016. An additional 11 Oregon counties sued MERS that same year.
After losing a federal lawsuit in the District Court of Oregon last year, the family appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court, which denied their petition. Last month, the family filed a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court, a formal request for the court to review the lower court’s decision.
A Multnomah County Judge authorized the Kinney family eviction in September. Since then, activists have worked to put up a “24/7 eviction blockade” around the home, which has come to be known as the “Red House on Mississippi.” An online fundraiser for the group has raised more than $40,000.
Most of the people arrested Tuesday face trespassing charges. One individual was also charged with resisting arrest.
In a news release, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office said the office had been commanded by a judge to evict the family and had no discretion in the matter. The release stated the eviction moratorium was not applicable to the Kinney family.
“The eviction moratoriums do not apply to evictions based on post-nonjudicial foreclosures, such as this case,” read the release. “... As with any civil enforcement service, MCSO provided the occupants time to gather their possessions and offered housing and shelter options and other additional resources.”
On Tuesday morning, police were met by a crowd of at least 100 protesters. After heated clashes, which included some protesters smashing the windows of police cars, officers retreated from the area. Protesters later erected fences out of barricades around the area.
Maurice Fain, the president of the Historic Mississippi Avenue Business Association, was watching from the sidewalk.
“I’ve been following this family from day one since the first eviction,” he said. “You can clearly see that something ain’t right with this.”
Fain, who owns the Southern Kitchen PDX food cart on Mississippi Ave., said it’s upsetting to see how gentrification in the area has so severely impacted Portland’s historically Black neighborhood.
“You’re taking away something that belongs to them that they’ve been having in their family for generations,” Fain said. “As business owners, as community people living here, we should help another family stay in the community. We shouldn’t want to destroy them so we can build sky rises and apartment complexes to get wealthy.”
Fain said that he hasn’t received any complaints or emails from other business owners or members of the community about protesters at the house. Instead, he said businesses in the area have been complaining to the city for months about frequent break-ins. He attributes the break-ins to the large houseless population in the area, a problem that comes back to the scene unfolding in front of him.
“They’re raising the rent up high, causing these people to be displaced,” he said. “And now Portland is going to need to answer for this.”
Gary Floyd, an activist who kept a kitchen in the backyard of the home to feed houseless people and community members involved with the red house, said he expects police officers to return at some point.
“They occupied the space by force. They removed — their definition of removed — some property. They destroyed whatever they didn’t want to take, which was food,” he said Tuesday. “Everything that happened this morning had nothing to do with justice.”
This story may be updated.