A group of activists from Standing Against Foreclosure and Eviction (SAFE) sat outside Mayor Ed Murray's office for four hours today, asking that he intervene to prevent the eviction of veteran and his wife from their West Seattle home, until the mayor and his chief of staff came out and met with them this afternoon.
According to SAFE organizer Josh Farris, Murray told them "the SPD is not coming" to evict Byron and Jean Barton, and that he'd let the activists know if anything changes.
As I reported on Friday, SAFE—joined by members of Socialist Alternative, including state house candidate Jess Spear—surrounded the Bartons' West Seattle bungalow when King County Sheriff deputies arrived that morning to enforce an eviction order, following the foreclosure and sale of their house. The deputies attempted to evict the couple by loading Byron, who uses a wheelchair to get around, into an ambulance.
Supporters of the Bartons lay down in the way of the ambulance, preventing it from leaving, and the authorities eventually gave up. It's now fallen to Seattle police to enforce trespassing laws.
But activists demanded that they hold off, and the mayor has agreed. "He's has asked SPD not to act until we’ve explored all options," confirms mayoral spokesperson Megan Coppersmith. "That means essentially standing by while the latest court proceedings unwind." (The Bartons are currently challenging the legality of their foreclosure in court.)
"This is a small victory," Farris says. "We punched capitalism in the nuts and we won a battle."
For now, Farris says he's calling off the eviction blockade, though SAFE will continue to push more broadly for the city to sue banks for fraudulent foreclosures, as Los Angeles and Miami have done, and fine them for empty bank-owned properties that cause blight. "We want them to expand the just-cause eviction protections for tenants and continue to pursue principal reduction," he says.
Earlier today, Council Member Kshama Sawant called on her website and in the council's morning briefing for Mayor Murray "to instruct the SPD to focus on its other work, and not to get involved in this dispute." It appears Murray, who has pledged to end veteran homelessness in Seattle by 2015, heard her and the protesters loud and clear.
"Even if the police cannot legally refuse to carry out this eviction, I can think of any number of things that are more important for them to work on first," Sawant said. "For example, we know that wage theft is rampant in Seattle, and it will take all the resources of the SPD to investigate those cases."
"I'm always dubious until I actually see it in writing," Jean Barton says by phone, when I tell her of the mayor's position. "Politicians tend to speak out of both sides of their mouth and say whatever to placate the public."
But for now, she's a bit relieved. "It's really tough to know at any moment that the police can come in, and Byron's going to be carted off to a nursing home. I really appreciate what SAFE has done. They actually took it to city hall, which I thought was a really great thing to do."
"I feel very good about what happened here," she continues. "It opened people's eyes to what's going on. We did a canvass of the neighborhood earlier that week and nobody seemed to care—until they saw a man in a wheelchair being left out on the street."