Retired police detective Jacqueline Barber finds herself in the ironic situation that she could be evicted from her Atlanta home by members of the force with whom she once served in uniform. A cancer patient who has teamed up with Occupy Our Homes Atlanta, Barber traveled north to Minneapolis Monday to confront GMAC Mortgage and Minnesota-based U.S. Bank, which bought her home in March in a fire sale.
“Let’s not let the banks use law enforcement to do their dirty work on unjust evictions,” Barber told supporters in Minneapolis. “The day I’m being evicted, an officer would have to come put me out, and the next day I might have to go and put that officer out. Let the banks get their own eviction teams and not use law enforcement.”
Joined by two dozen Occupy Homes Minnesota activists, Barber delivered 20,000 petition signatures to U.S. Bank headquarters in Minneapolis and GMAC’s Bloomington offices and called on the them to let her buy back her home, rather than sell it (at a lower price) and evict her and her four grandchildren, ages 3, 4, 6 and 10. The demonstrators also staged a brief rally outside Minneapolis Police Department headquarters in City Hall, where Occupy Homes called on Minneapolis’ new police chief Janee Harteau to stop using department resources to evict home defenders and to drop riot charges filed following 37 arrests at the Cruz family house this past summer in South Minneapolis.
“We were staying on our friends’ property because it is their house,” recounted Cat Salonek, one of those arrested at the Cruz house, as fellow activists chanted ‘Drop the charges now’. “They’re charging me with a violent gross misdemeanor of riot, and I teach children. If this charge were to go through, I would no longer be able to teach children.” (Salonek works with at-risk youth for Project for Pride in Living—a position that could be in jeopardy.)
Barber purchased her six-acre home in 2004 for $475,000 and made monthly mortgage payments of $2,400. The loan was originally serviced by America’s Servicing Company, a division of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. But Barber fell into foreclosure after she was injured on the job as a police detective. She was diagnosed in 2009 with multiple myeloma, a blood and bone cancer that requires expensive medications, and her payments on an adjustable rate mortgage ballooned to $3,886 per month. Barber says that although she faxed endless forms applying for a mortgage modification, her home was eventually auctioned off on the courthouse steps to U.S. Bank in March.
“The banks do fraud and robo-signing, and they get away with it,” Barber said. “These are federal offenses. If I did it, I would be sitting in a federal penitentiary right now, but they can do it and get away with it. That’s not fair.”
She then turned to Occupy Our Homes Atlanta for help. Occupy Atlanta activists have camped out at Barber’s home, and pledge that they will join her in resisting forcible eviction. Since the foreclosure, her cancer, previously in remission, has returned.
“If it hadn’t been for Occupy Atlanta, I would be outdoors already,” she said. “They’re the ones who are really helping me to fight this cause. They are a blessing to me.”
Occupy Our Homes Atlanta teamed up with Occupy Homes Minnesota and other Occupy Homes groups for a national day of action last December 6. Their goals and strategies have often dovetailed, and both groups see the protester-led occupation of abandoned houses as the next step in their evolution. Occupy Atlanta has “won” eight homes from the banks, helped two churches reclaim their land and is currently fighting on behalf of a family that wants to remain on their farm. Meanwhile, Occupy Minnesota has helped six homeowners renegotiate their mortgages.
“It’s a sad shame that in Atlanta, much of the south of the city is 50 percent empty, and these banks continue to put folks out of their homes,” said Occupy Atlanta organizer Tim Franzen. “We’re not broke as a nation — we just got some backward priorities — and we’re here today not just to prioritize keeping Jacqueline Barber in her house, but all of the other folks across America who are facing foreclosure, facing eviction, and who are already on the street.”