Commentary

One year ago, police raided an intentional homeless encampment in Berkeley, Calif. In the early hours of the morning, then-candidate for District 2 city council, Nanci Armstrong-Temple, was called out of her bed and into the streets to advocate for the homeless — some of the individuals who are most impacted by multi-system oppression. As a result of her advocacy, Nanci — a black queer Berkeley resident — was arrested and jailed, charged with the felony crime of lynching. She was the third black woman in the movement for black lives to be charged with lynching while questioning police brutality.

Almost a year later, Berkeley is still wrestling with how to dismantle the parasitic relationships between militarism, patriarchy, and capitalism — three systems that deeply inform policing in the United States. On Oct. 21, that same intentional Berkeley housing encampment — which has peacefully existed in its current location for the last nine months, was served a 72-hour eviction notice by the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police by request from the City of Berkeley. Despite receiving over 3 million dollars in grants to expand housing, the City of Berkeley invests more of its time and resources displacing marginalized communities.

I’ve been in the East Bay for the past month, working on a manuscript centered on activist theology. While here I’ve been paying close attention to what’s happening on the ground. And, not to my surprise, marginalized persons are still being severely impacted by what I have come to refer to as the “Tyranny of the Now.”

The effect of neoliberal capitalism is that homeless encampments pose a specific concern to corporations that want to gentrify areas for market gain – that their presence and appearance dissuade patrons from venturing into encampment areas, and thus shape the market in negative ways. Yet this concern means people continue to be displaced, first from uncontrolled inflation and then by city officials. And this unmasks a deeper problem: Police are permitted to exercise militarized control over housing encampments that do not conform to empire standards — traditional housing that models the standard of respectability. This is the parasitic relationship between militarism, capitalism, and patriarchy, and as the Anti Police-Terror Project says, the police are the “shock troops of gentrification.”

When citizens, by need or desire, re-imagine what housing looks like, it appears as though militarized police are given rein to raid their communities. This happened during the Occupy movement when police raided Occupy encampments, and this reality continues to materialize here in Berkeley. Living in the “Tyranny of the Now” means fundamentally perpetuating the logic of dominance. And this reality is deeply damaging those who do not have sustained access to housing or food — thereby creating a deeper, more challenging insecurity for those most impacted affected by multi-system oppressions.

Militarized police are but one stronghold in this work, and we must seek to dismantle the ways in which the militarized police are supported (and allowed to flourish) by the ever-expanding notion of empire. When militarized police raid those who are counted as the least of these, we not only are demonizing these humans — we are minimizing them, by not valuing their self-determining orientation to make a home where no one else made a home for them. Using militarized force and raiding encampments sends a strong message that the state does not care for those who are under-homed — that what it cares about is a sanitized city that does not include the fray or the fringe.

But what we know about the Christian story is that the incarnation is not above the fray. The incarnation is the fray, and using militarized police to destabilize intentional housing encampments are tactics of a puritanical moral framework that fortifies empire building. The intentional housing encampment that resides along the BART tracks still lives between “Here” and “There.”

On Tuesday, the federal court in San Francisco granted a temporary restraining order, halting the planned 4 p.m. raid. The “least of these” remain homed in their intentional housing community. Next Tuesday, the court will hear arguments and decide whether this temporary stay should be more permanent.

This is the cycle of the eternal return of the logic of dominance. Those who confess to follow the ways of Jesus should be compelled to stand against this form of empire, and work to address the overwhelming housing insecurity that impacts affects the poor.

The call of the Christian is to stand for the least of these, especially because these are our siblings. What we know is that the city-state is complicit in perpetuating the logic of dominance and fortifying empire. We also know that city and BART officials could stop this ongoing displacement, at least in this case, but their silence is a complicity in the logic of dominance that further embellishes the empire of this country. Christians and people of conscience to can live out a public witness by calling their elected officials to remind them that their duty is to the people, not to the logic of dominance.

Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, Ph.D, is Director of Public Theology Initiatives at Faith Matters Network in Nashville, Tenn., and Visiting Scholar, Vanderbilt University Divinity School. Follow them on Twitter at @irobyn.

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