Conjunctural Insurrections – “Include Tenant Rights and the Right to Housing in the Call for Abolition”

In preparation for the conclusion of Michigan’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium, Michigan’s Supreme Court issued Administrative Order No. 2020-17 outlining the priority scheduling of upcoming eviction hearings. The order declared that eviction filings resulting from damage to property or alleged illegal conduct by tenants would be prioritized upon the reopening of the courts. Allowing landlords who allege damage or illegal activity by tenants to receive priority in the scheduling of eviction hearings incentivizes collusion between landlords and the police by encouraging escalation to accusations of criminality to achieve eviction. The eviction policies that have been issued throughout the nationwide COVID-19 state of emergency uphold tenants’ financial obligations to landlords and are resulting in the widespread displacement of the renter class through writs of eviction. In Detroit, a city that is 80% Black and a population of whom 57% are renters, police regularly attend evictions to ensure tenant compliance through intimidation. The recently announced Centers for Disease Control moratorium on evictions that will allow tenants to remain housed nationwide until 31 December 2020 applies only to eviction cases resulting from non-payment of rent. Landlords who claim damage to their property or allege that tenants are partaking in illegal activity may supersede the CDC’s order and proceed with evictions. In the spirit of anticipating outcomes that will lead us further into struggle, we have to assume that giving landlords the ability to criminalize tenants and proceed with evictions by claiming damage to property will overwhelmingly impact the housing security as well as health and safety of Black, poor, and people of color tenants and involve the police.

In the days following the murder of George Floyd, Detroit’s chief of police James Craig spoke at a press conference and condemned the violence of Minneapolis police officers. In response, Detroit Renter City, an organization fighting Black displacement, issued a demand to the Detroit Police Department to truly take a stand against police brutality and civilian deaths by refusing to enforce eviction orders at the conclusion of Michigan’s eviction moratorium. No formal response was offered by the Detroit Police Department (DPD) to the demand. Within one week of the murder of George Floyd during Michigan’s statewide moratorium on evictions, Detroit police detained a tenant while their landlord, who lacked a court-issued eviction order, removed the tenants’ belongings from their home and changed the locks of the premises. Throughout the summer, the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) in Detroit distributed more than 70,000 eviction prevention flyers created by Detroit Renter City during neighborhood marches against police brutality. Marchers were repeatedly targets of DPD tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray, and multiple mass arrests. In September, M4BL organizers were granted a restraining order against the DPD after presenting evidence of recurring excessive force at anti-police brutality marches, including an incident in which a DPD vehicle struck a dozen people during a M4BL march in June.

The disciplinary authority landlords and police wield are property rights all the same – one with the authority to make someone homeless, and the other the power to detain and forcibly confine and criminalize. The property rights of homeowners and landlords need to be critically assessed in the struggle toward abolition. As we collectively struggle, housing justice activists and abolitionists need to redirect how housing needs are met by using transformative justice as a model for resolving the supremacy and violence inherent within property.

Rachael Baker is a Canada-US Fulbright alumna with a doctorate in geography from York University. Rachael is a member of the Urban Praxis Workshop, living, working, and organizing for housing justice and an end to Black dispossession in Detroit, MI. Twitter: @cityisthelimit / Instagram: @detroit_renter_city

For more on Antipode’s “Conjunctural Insurrections” series – an experiment to amplify voices often unheard and invisibilised in politics, daily life, and academic discourse – see