By Zack Haber
At 8 a.m., Oct. 23, Auto Plus Towing & Auto Body and the Oakland Police Department collaborated to tow over 15 vehicles near 20th and Willow streets in West Oakland.
The vehicles were mostly homes to long-term Oakland residents who could no longer afford to pay rent.
Emma Chum, an immigrant from Guatemala who has lived in Oakland for 16 years, says that as police officers towed her RV, “They were laughing like it was funny.”
Chum’s RV had a kitchen, bed, solar power and a closet. She now lives in a tent and has trouble sleeping. Though she works six days a week at a beauty supply store, she hasn’t found a room in Oakland she can afford to rent.
Chum’s missing papers relating to citizenship and employment have served as an additional roadblock to her securing indoor housing. Since these papers were in her vehicle when it got towed, she lost them.
Kelly Thompson and Gary Rosenquist, two Vietnam veterans who have lived in Oakland for decades, insist that the Police Department worked strategically to seize their vehicles and intimidate them. Both claim that after police towed their vehicles, officers tracked them down later in the day and told them to “get out of Oakland.”
Though police had given residents at 20th and Willow streets a three-day eviction notice, Rosenquist claims that in the past police would allow vehicular residents time to move during the day of an eviction. This time, there was no leniency. If a vehicle couldn’t be moved immediately, it was towed.
“It was heart-wrenching. They were acting like we were second-class people,” said Rosenquist.
Thompson thinks he was targeted. “They know my truck and what I’ve done in the past so they snagged mine first,” he said. Though his truck ran, it was past registration and he arrived a few minutes too late to move it. It was towed.
In the past, Thompson had used his truck to tow displaced people’s vehicles to new locations so that they could avoid having them seized by towing companies. He had planned to help people on the morning of Oct. 23, but with his truck gone, his neighbors who couldn’t immediately start their vehicles were left helpless.
Thompson and Rosenquist feel the City of Oakland has treated them unjustly and have connected with housing activists like Dayton Andrews to form the United Front Against Displacement (UFAD).
UFAD meets at Raimondi Park every Friday at 4:30 p.m. and works to stop evictions, house all Bay Area residents, and hold city agencies financially accountable to the people they displace.
In the days immediately following Oct. 23, Thompson, Rosenquist, Andrews and other UFAD members attempted to talk with the city government about the mass towing and were directed to Michael Hunt, an aide to Mayor Libby Schaaf.
Hunt told them the police shouldn’t have towed their vehicles and that the city would help to retrieve them.
But the former 20th and Willow streets residents claim the city hasn’t helped as police have informed them that their vehicles would not be returned.
Hunt hasn’t responded to an Oakland Post email asking him to comment.
The former residents agree with Andrews, who says “the City of Oakland owes people compensation for their lost property, their lost vehicles and ultimately should be held accountable for not producing spaces in Oakland for people to live in.”
Published January 2, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post