Evictions as the New “Monuments to White Supremacy”

Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

The City of Richmond took down the statue of Stonewall Jackson yesterday in the hope, in Mayor Levar Stoney’s words, of protecting the public and starting the healing process. But across town enraged demonstrators were one step ahead of the Mayor, having switched the focus of their wrath from Civil War memorials to housing evictions.

Marchers downtown chanted, “Fight, fight, fight! Housing is a right!” and “Eviction is violence.” Apparently, the demonstrators got disorderly, although the Richmond Times-Dispatch account is unclear. Deputies deployed pepper spray, a window was smashed, and two people were arrested. One is left to deduce from the photograph accompanying the story (shown above) that violence occurred, or was threatened, at the John Marshall Courts Building.

What is clear is that the mob has moved on. It has found a new cause.

“I find this incredibly insidious,” said organizer Naomi Isaac. “Especially when our elected officials are congratulating themselves for taking down monuments to white supremacy on Monument Avenue while replicating those same monuments to white supremacy at the courthouse against people who are fighting against [evictions] and fighting against the way that’s affected Black people for generations.”

There is a real social issue at the root of the mayhem. The COVID-19 shutdown has thrown hundreds of thousands of people out of work. As a consequence, many are falling behind in their rent payments and are being threatened with eviction. A week ago, Governor Ralph Northam said the state would use $50 million in federal emergency aid to help Virginia residents pay their rent and mortgages, and Mayor Stoney pledged another $6 million. Meanwhile, the federal government has dispensed thousand-dollar checks to tens of millions of Americans and has bolstered unemployment insurance payments to help carry people through the shutdown. Additionally, Northam dictated a statewide evictions moratorium, but that expired last week. The Virginia Supreme Court refused to extend the freeze, and eviction cases are now moving through the courts. It has been reported that 1,900 households in Richmond alone face eviction.

People affected by the shutdown, including those who have lost jobs and are threatened with evictions, have every right to protest in an orderly, law-abiding manner. But they don’t have a right to destroy property and engage in violence, even low-level violence.

I made the point in a post yesterday, “The Kraken Cannot Be Appeased,” that the Kraken, in the immortal line from “Clash of the Titans,” has been released. As I wrote, “The Kraken is running amok. The Kraken is not interested in healing. The Kraken is not in the mood for compromise.”

The Kraken, of course, is the mob. And it took only a few hours for my prediction to come true.

Yesterday’s mob, propelled by social-justice groups such as Richmond For All, the Virginia New Majority, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch, has an endless list of demands.  The New Virginia Majority website says the organization is targeting economic justice, criminal justice, environmental justice, housing, education and health. The mob cannot be appeased. Indeed, activists have been attacking Mayor Stoney from the left, accusing him of cozying up to rich, white plutocrats in the now-defunct Navy Hill controversy.

Social-justice issues have been simmering for years, but militancy has increased dramatically in the past few months. While some of the intensity no doubt stems from the reaction to the George Floyd killing in Minnesota, it also coincides with the economic devastation wrought by the COVID-19 shutdowns, which threw thousands out of work and exacerbated socioeconomic insecurities. With the new race-is-everything paradigm, the travails of poverty, experienced by all races/ethnicities, are viewed as manifestations of racial oppression.

Social justice warriors have no interest in “healing” unless it is entirely on their own terms. Their power depends upon keeping people riled up. And as long as Virginia’s political class remains ambivalent — “I don’t support looting, vandalism, and destruction, but protesters are responding to systemic injustice” — there will always be a new cause, and there will be no no end to the disorder.