Community activists have condemned the eviction of families occupying vacant state-owned homes in Los Angeles by California Highway Patrol officers the evening before Thanksgiving.
Videos posted on social media showed officers dragging people out of the homes in the neighbourhood, as activists protest in the background. Other clips revealed law enforcement in full tactical gear using battering rams to enter some houses. One video, posted by the Street Watch LA account, showed two officers dragging a child out of a home.
In March, the group Reclaiming Our Homes, comprised of activists who are homeless, started occupying the Caltrans-owned homes in the area. Activists demanded a safe place for those evicted to stay during the pandemic as cases of COVID-19 surge in the area.
The group called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to order the California Department of Transportation to make the houses available for families in need of shelter, as the pandemic continues to ravage the community.
There are 1,857 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in El Sereno, according to the County of Los Angeles Public Health. The data shows 4,442 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents.
Speaking in a press conference, activists Claudia Lara and Janil Hernandez said: “There has been intimidation and our communities have a long history of police brutality and murders at the hands of the police.
“And honestly these families are scared. They are scared for their lives because at any given moment law enforcement can barge in and their lives are on the line. We are again asking Govenor Newsom to please intervene, to ask all law enforcement to not use any violence and to allow us to shelter in place.
“I think it’s also important to note that Caltrans have promised to give back these houses at an affordable rate for the community and they did not keep that promise. They have hoarded more houses than they can handle and it just doesn’t make sense. Housing is a human right.”
Lara added: “We feel that amidst the pandemic, it’s irresponsible and inhumane for the state to be hoarding 170 homes.”
A California Highway Patrol spokesperson told Newsweek: “At the request of the California Department of Transportation, the CHP has removed trespassers on state property.” The spokesperson did not elaborate on how many were arrested.
The move came after a group of houseless activists and families occupied several homes that had been purchased by the Caltrans to demolish for the now-defunct expansion of 710 freeway.
On a GoFundMe page, the Reclaim and Rebuild Our Community group said it consisted of families, ranging in age from 3 months to more than 70 years, who had been living in cars or homeless encampments.
“We, people of color are certainly facing ‘The Darkest Winter’ not only because COVID-19 is again spiking, but because for us, the economic crisis has worsened and the tsunami of evictions is dwarfing the already miniscule number of available affordable housing statewide,” the group wrote.
“As you said, we are safer if we have the ability to self-quarantine and safely isolate in a home. We therefore, ask that you, as Governor, direct Caltrans to allow the new families to immediately turn on all their utilities: heating and running water and electricity are essential to shelter safely in place.”
Gov. Newsom has not yet responded to the situation.
Cases of COVID-19 are rising rapidly in California Kevin Winter/Getty Images