Portland mayor vows to clear protesters' eviction blockade
Police and protesters returned to the "Red House" on Mississippi Avenue in North Portland as the city's unprecedented uprising entered a new chapter.
The ruby-painted home at the heart of Portland's historically black Albina neighborhood is fast becoming an occupied zone — with make-shift barricades blocking access to the area and hundreds of protesters occupying the site.
Mayor Ted Wheeler has vowed to remove the ramparts from city streets, saying he has authorized police to "use all lawful means to end the illegal occupation."
The protest — which organizers described as a "active eviction blockade on Indigenous land" — sprouted after a dramatic clash captured on video that showed outnumbered officers fleeing from an approaching crowd tossing rocks and grabbing officers' batons.
Major barricade up at Albina Avenue in Portland.— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) December 8, 2020
Albina was once the heart of Portlandâ€™s Black community, but gentrification has displaced most of the original community pic.twitter.com/T40eWh4VIX
More than a dozen people have been arrested so far on charges ranging from second-degree trespassing to disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, according to police.
The Kinney family home has transformed into the latest flashpoint in the long-running battle between black-clad demonstrators and Portland Police Bureau officers, with authorities saying they are merely following judicial orders and rallygoers saying they must block gentrification.
"Every trick that they use to displace the people from this neighborhood, they've used against my family," said Red House matriarch Julie Metcalf Kinney, whose family has been embroiled in a years-long eviction dispute involving the property, in a video posted on Instagram.
The incident began when Multnomah County Sheriff's deputies arrived at the 1890s-era home in the 4400 block of Mississippi Avenue around 5 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 8, in order to "re-secure" the property where an eviction notice was first served in February.
Two members of the Kinney family were arrested during the early-morning confrontation, said Metcalf Kinney.
"One of my sons is still not out, and my other son was injured really badly, they smashed his finger and his ring and then left them in a cell, freezing cold, like they do," she said mid-day. "This is a tactic they've used over and over again."
In a statement, the Kinney family said officers "violently dismantled" the camp and community kitchen surrounding the home, misgendered campers and entered the premise to destroy the interior.
"This is totally unacceptable behavior," said William X. Nietzche, a resident and son of the Red House homeowners, who was arrested. Michael Kinney, a son of Metcalf Kinney, was also arrested and released from jail in the late afternoon, according to the statement.
"The tactics we are facing, of sneaky and illegal foreclosure tactics, predatory banking and loans, elected judges who take campaign contributions from the real estate industry, coupled with violence from law enforcement and no real due process, have been used across this historically Black neighborhood to displace Black and poor people," said Metcalf.
Local organizers, who have hosted demonstrations at the home since September and called for round-the-clock occupation of the site, sent out word for protesters to gather nearby after police arrived before dawn. Portland Police Bureau officers blocked nearby streets and sidewalks in order to secure the perimeter, and allowed the new property owners to again board-up entries and install a chain link fence.
As the sun went up, the confrontation boiled over once more, with several protesters being wrestled to the ground, according to social media videos. Protesters remained in a muddy alley near the home and began a standoff with Rapid Response Team officers. After police backed off, the crowd of 50 tore down the chain-link fence that had blocked access to the property, according to photojournalist Alex Milan Tracy, and chased the police into a full retreat reminiscent of recent street warfare seen in Paris.
The fence around the Red House on Mississippi is coming down. pic.twitter.com/VprjmOoxS3— Alex Milan Tracy (@AlexMilanTracy) December 8, 2020
Over the next few hours, protesters built barricades using lumber, repurposed fencing, trash cans, and other sundry materials along Mississippi Avenue at Skidmore Street, at a nearby alley, at the corner of Mississippi and Prescott Street, and extended the palisades north to Albina Avenue at Blandena Street. Several bus stops in the area were closed "until the road is clear," according to TriMet.
Power tools were brought to bear, with Saran wrap-style traps and improvised caltrops scattered between multiple lines of defense.
Officials say the home has remained illegally occupied since Multnomah County Sheriff's Office deputies served another eviction court order on Sept. 9. William Kinney Jr. and his family have described the Sept. 9 event as a police raid occurring "at gunpoint."
"The Kinneys are one of the last Black families remaining on Mississippi and their fight for their home is also a real-time fight against gentrification," according to their website, Red House on Mississippi.
Police say there have been 81 calls for service regarding the home in September and November this year, with the reports involving fights, disturbances, shots fired, burglary, thefts, vandalism, noise violations, trespassing, threats made by armed individuals, and access to streets, sidewalks and other homes blocked by campers.
Police say they have provided housing and food assistance to the family. PPB says a pistol and a rifle were recovered during the Sept. 8 incident.
"We understand evictions are challenging proceedings even in the best of circumstances," Sheriff Mike Reese said. "I believe everyone should have access to appropriate housing."
Eviction proceedings began in November 2018 after the home was foreclosed upon, per court records. William Kinney Jr. and his wife, Metcalf Kinney — who identifies as an Indigenous Native from the Upper Skagit Tribe of Washington — sued in District of Oregon federal court, but Judge Michael H. Simon dismissed the case with prejudice on Oct. 8, 2018. The legal proceedings ended with the home being awarded to developer Roman Ozeruga of Urban House Development in February 2020.
The next month, Oregon declared a statewide eviction moratorium due to the economic contraction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but officials say the temporary ban on evictions doesn't apply in this case.
On their website, the Kinneys say they only owed $97,000 on the home after a refinanced second-mortgage in 2004 paid of their first loan — but the debt was sold from bank to bank and the home was sold at auction while they faced family trauma, including a loss of employment and entanglement with the law enforcement system.
Metcalf Kinney lost her job as executive director of a nonprofit called Low Income Housing for Native Americans of Portland, Oregon after the organization dissolved, and one of the couple's three children was taken to prison at the age of 17.
The Kinney family has lived in the home for four generations, but development of the site now appears likely. Their two-story craftsman is shadowed by a looming modern apartment building, and the empty lot next door is worth more than $10 million.
"We don't need another empty, high-rise, high-rent luxury condominium," the family says on its website. "In order to stand a chance against the big banks and developers who've systematically displaced Black families across North and Northeast Portland, we need leverage."
The family is seeking to raise $250,000 on GoFundMe, but has only garnered $41,000 so far.
Full statement from Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler:
"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.
We all agree many of our nation's systems and structures are fundamentally racist and require significant reform. There's a housing crisis, a health care crisis, an education crisis, an employment crisis, a mental health crisis, and an addiction crisis. All of these crises are magnified in urban areas, including Portland. And, these crises disproportionately impact Black people.
It's also true that illegal trespassing, ignoring lawful orders from police, blocking sidewalks and streets, and intimidating neighbors inflame these crises and make them more difficult to solve. That is what's happening on North Mississippi Avenue right now.
There was a lengthy, thorough judicial proceeding resulting in a lawful judge's order to evict people illegally occupying a home. Multnomah County chose the time, place and manner of the eviction and Portland Police provided support.
It's time for the encampment and occupation to end. 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."
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the protest as an autonomous zone.
Follow me on Twitter
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.