Mainstream media has largely ignored how police have been destroying houseless Black people's belongings for years

-Blake Simons

By Blake Simons

Oakland has made national news for ridiculous displays of whiteness again, and this time it wasn’t because of BBQ Becky. In a viral video, a white man named Henry Sintay, since infamously dubbed “Jogger Joe,” can be seen destroying a houseless Black man named Drew’s tent and belongings by throwing them into Lake Merritt. This led to not only outrage on Black Twitter, but also among the real Oakland community.

This act of violence is nothing new, I am a community member who has been working with the houseless population in West Oakland for over a year now, and I’ve heard multiple stories of gentrifiers like Jogger Joe terrorizing and harassing the houseless population. What makes this situation different is just that it was caught on video.

Jogger Joe destroying this Black man’s tent was not an isolated incident, rather it is yet another example of how gentrification has created war-like conditions for houseless Black people in Oakland.

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Oakland, like many other cities in the united states, has been experiencing a houseless crisis for years now. According to the East Bay Times, “it is estimated that 70 percent of Oakland are African-American, 40 percent are over 50, and 70 percent are male. There were 2,761 homeless in the city, of which 1,900 were unsheltered.”

Houselessness has increased by around 25 percent since 2015, all largely under the administration of Mayor Libby Schaff. This is coming at a time when the city has been experiencing exacerbated gentrification, as it has lost 30 percent of its Black population since 2000.

Gentrification has caused the rent to increase in historically redlined areas in Oakland (redlining refers to the racial segregation of a city or town which was created by discriminatory practices by banks, insurance companies and the federal government). This essentially created what we know today as “the hood.” Now, white and other invaders who often work at tech companies in Silicon Valley and San Francisco are reversing white flight and continuing the process of colonization in historically colonized communities.

This increase in rent is contributing the houselessness. Mecury News recently reported on a 77 year old Black man named Clarence Wheeler who became houseless after splitting up with his wife. Because of the skyrocketing rent, he could not find an apartment on his Social Security income of $900 a month. Some Oakland families have said they’ve experienced a 100% raise in rent.

How are working class people supposed to afford such increases? It’s clear that gentrification is trying to create a new Oakland, and Jogger Joe’s rampage is a microcosm of the much larger, systemic issue of white supramcist capitalism.

Jogger Joe’s rampage came at a time in Oakland when the largest houseless camp has been targeted and destroyed by the Oakland Police Department, who were following the orders of Mayor Libby Schaff. The city had been serving eviction notices to the houseless people who live on 27th and Northgate as well as Sycamore and Northgate until they evicted the whole camp, and many of the houseless have nowhere to go. The city has built “tuff sheds” where only 40 houseless people are allowed to live despite there being over 100 people in the camp they evicted.

The city has evicted people from the sidewalk without providing them shelter. These conditions are inhumane and a result of parasitic capitalism. While Oakland is lauded for being a hub of progressivism, it is clear that Libby Schaff is more focused on evictions than providing the houseless material resources.

The tuff sheds are also a result of the city not listening to the people living on the streets. CBS asked a houseless person named Mariah, who used to live in the encampment before the eviction, if she would move into the new tuff sheds. She replied saying, “No… it reminds me of a concentration camp.”

This was a sentiment echoed by many of the people at this houseless camp when we were doing our monthly free breakfast program called People’s Breakfast Oakland. I even had a houseless person tell me that the camps use collective punishment methods like turning off the water and electricity. These sheds are small and surrounded by gated wire fences and 24-hour security. They remind me of slave quarters, and I would estimate 95% of this houseless camp is Black.

Instead of the city of Oakland having a compassionate housing model, it has essentially created a jail in the hood to “house” and monitor those who are most impacted by this white supremacist capitalist country.

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The houselessness crisis in Oakland has even garnered the attention of the United Nations. Six months prior to these large-scale evictions, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing Leilani Farha decried the houseless situation in Oakland, stating, “I find there to be a real cruelty in how people are being dealt with here.” She also observed that the camps in Oakland are virtually identical to those that she has visited in Mexico City, demonstrating how capitalism is not just an American problem, but an international parasitic economic system that values the rich and systematically discriminates against the poor.

It is not a coincidence that the largest houseless camp in Oakland was destroyed when there would be many tourists in Oakland due to the Warriors being in the NBA Championship. Mayor Libby Schaff wanted to make Oakland look “good” for gentrifiers and tourists. While the case of Jogger Joe is receiving national attention, mainstream media has largely ignored the fact that the Oakland Police Department has been destroying the belongings and the tents of houseless Black people for years, doing much more damage.

While Jogger Joe was arrested in connection to his terrorist acts towards a Black houseless man, the Oakland Police Department is paid to terrorize the houseless people everyday. If Jogger Joe is going to be arrested for his acts, why isn’t Libby Schaff being arrested for ordering evictions of houseless camps despite not giving those evicted resources? Why aren’t the Oakland cops who are destroying these camps arrested?

The answer is simple. State actors will never be arrested for evicting the houseless because it is their job to maintain white supremacist capitalism. The police will not be arrested for destroying the property of the houseless, because it is their job to be the gatekeepers of capitalism. Providing these gatekeepers with resources, like the over a two million dollars Oakland had to prevent evictions that were not spent by Libby Schaff’s administration, will not change their core function.

While I believe that the state won’t change its anti-Black function, I also believe we will win. You can help by supporting grassroots initiatives that help the houseless in Oakland, like People’s Breakfast Oakland, The Village, and the East Oakland Collective. You can help by treating houseless people with respect and care, and by providing material resources to them when able. And if you live in Oakland, we must get Libby Schaaf out of office. While I do not believe electoral politics will save us and that a decolonial socialist revolution is the ultimate goal, I do believe some changes can be made in the meantime if we send a message on this issue on election day. I urge Oakland voters to support Cat Brooks, an activist who has been in the streets of Oakland doing the work.

Blake is an educator and co-host of Hella Black Podcast. He also co-founded People’s Breakfast Oakland. You can follow him on Twitter @BlakeDontCrack.