What happens when you don’t pay your bills? It doesn’t take a degree in economics to figure out that your credit score will suffer if you don’t pay your credit cards. Likewise, if you don’t make your monthly payments on that new car, the bank will move to repossess it — and if you neglect your mortgage, the lender is likely to foreclose. Unless, of course, you’re a black indigenous family in Portland, OR. A mob will then take over the neighborhood in Seattle autonomous zone style, put a barricade around your house, and prevent the new owners from taking up residence.
Sound like a scene from an evil zombie apocalypse movie? Unfortunately, true-life these days can be scarier and more bizarre than fiction. Here’s a classic case in point: The Kenney’s owned the “Red House on Mississippi” since the 1950s, but after a family mess, they were forced out. They spent their savings to defend their son, William Kenney III, who pled guilty to felony hit-and-run in 2002. That event resulted in the death of 83-year-old Frederick Goetz. In Oct. 2018, real estate developer Roman Ozeruga purchased the Kenney home for $260,000 via a foreclosure auction and has been trying to get the family to move out ever since.
On Tuesday, Dec. 8, the police, alongside construction contractors, began putting up barricades and boarding up the house. Law enforcement arrived around 5 a.m. while the work started, but soon after, a crowd gathered and began throwing rocks, paint-filled balloons, and other objects at the officers. They stayed in place until the crews finished working, then left the area, only to return after the crowd pulled down the fencing and entered the property.
About 200 people joined in, and violence swelled until the police eventually retreated to deescalate the situation. According to Fox News, “By Wednesday [Dec. 9], occupiers had stockpiled defensive gear and laid down booby traps aimed to keep officers out, including piles of rocks and homemade spike strips to puncture the tires of any vehicles that could breach the barricades, according to reports.” Now, four days later, the area has turned into another autonomous zone with various signs saying, “stop all evictions,” “stand up and fight back,” and “Indigenous solidarity for Black Liberation.” Reporters are bullied, threatened, and in at least one case, suffered injury while reporting on the scene.
Democratic Mayor Ted Wheeler, who you may remember allowed Antifa to take over and destroy parts of The City of Roses, now claims the area will not be permitted to become an autonomous zone (although it technically already is). In a tweet, he said:
“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.”
Unfortunately, the takeover continues and the owner of the residence cannot even get close to his property while the mob destroys the neighborhood. The issue has become so volatile that Ozeruga has offered to sell the home back to the family – for the same cost he put into it:
“We are a small family business, we don’t seek to hurt anyone, of course. We’re overwhelmed by the attention to this. We’ve already offered to sell back the property at cost because, of course, we’ve paid taxes, legal fees, bank fees, etc.”
Understandably, Ozeruga wishes to get out of the predicament, but it could establish a troublesome precedent. The Kenney family was not targeted because of their race. They had a child that committed a felony that resulted in a death and chose to spend their money defending him. While a lot of parents would likely do the same, there often are consequences for such behavior. a GoFundMe account raised more than enough money for the family to repurchase the home.
It’s not unusual for a family to lose its home after incurring hospital bills, losing jobs … things that just happen and are beyond control. The often-coined phrase “business is business” applies here: The only color banks see is green, and if they’re not getting their money from you, they will get it from someone else. Similarly, Mr. Ozeruga saw a business opportunity and took it. Yet, any chance to turn something into a race issue is one to be exploited, as activist Ragina Rage told The Oregonian:
“Help us occupy this land. Help us do this so that we can protect other families that they’re going to do this to. They will target other Black and brown families because of the anti-Blackness that exists within this … system.”
What example does this set? For decades, the housing industry has been urged to treat everyone equally – a valid policy. However, this saga of the Kenneys and the Ozerugas suggests that some are more equal than others. That, dear readers, is not equality – it is preference. Ultimately this type of inequality will backfire on these preferred people because those in business to make money will refuse to buy the property enabling a situation where everyone is a loser.
Read more from Kelli Ballard.