Barricades that had blocked a stretch of North Mississippi Avenue were slowly coming down Sunday afternoon after a Black and Indigenous family fighting to save their North Portland house lost to foreclosure struck a tentative deal with city officials.
Activists on Sunday put out a call on Twitter asking for people to return to what’s become known as the “red house” and help clear the street, saying police had agreed not to force the family to leave while those negotiations were ongoing — so long as the street was cleared by Monday night.
Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office said that, under a deal reached late Saturday, the streets and sidewalks near the house would be cleared. There was no indication of an agreement in place to sell the home back to the Kinney family, its owners of more than six decades.
In a letter addressed to the Kinney family that was released to The Oregonian/OregonLive, Wheeler and Police Chief Chuck Lovell apologized for statements the two leaders had made earlier in the week. In one series of posts on Twitter, Wheeler referred to the encampment as an “autonomous zone” and said police were authorized to use “all lawful means” to end the occupation of the house and street.
In the letter, Wheeler and Lovell said the family had been subjected to escalating threats after the posts, and that police had assigned a detective to investigate those threats.
“We apologize and understand that following our tweets earlier this week that your family received threats,” the letter said. “We did not intend to attract attention that results in threats of harm and violence to your family or that escalated tensions in our community. Nobody should be subjected to this kind of stress and harm, and we apologize for the role our tweets played in this.”
The letter also said the city would support the family in finding temporary housing and effective legal counsel.
“I maintain measured optimism that we can accomplish this step and move toward the next steps to advance the safety and well-being of the family and the safety of the neighborhood,” Wheeler said in a prepared statement.
Neither the letter nor Wheeler’s statement outlined changes in how police would respond to the situation going forward, but social media accounts associated with the family said police had “promised not to attack supporters.”
William Kinney III hung up on an Oregonian/OregonLive reporter when reached by phone Sunday afternoon.
Mac Smiff, an activist and journalist who has been involved in the foreclosure protest, said the tentative agreement was a “win” amid the months of protests.
“This is a whole new level of progress and the impacts are going to reverberate around the nation,” Smiff said. “This isn’t like what we’ve seen before. It’s a negotiation and a win, and that’s something we’re just not used to.”
Early Sunday afternoon, about 100 people had gathered with drills, hammers and other tools to help remove the fences, plywood and other materials that formed the makeshift barricades. Others were sweeping sidewalks or scrubbing graffiti from walls. Some arriving at the outer barricades, however, were still being turned away by sentries.
Christine Peterson, 40, of Northeast Portland, was cleaning graffiti from a nearby building on Sunday and said she was excited about the day’s developments. She came to help with the cleanup in part because of the regional and national attention the demonstration had drawn.
“People were really brandishing the people here as violent, out of control people when really this was a big act of solidarity,” Peterson said. “I’d really like it to look like everybody kept up their side of the deal.”
The family appeared to have raised enough to buy the house back from its legal owner, who bought it at foreclosure action for $260,000 at 2018 and had indicated a willingness to return it at cost. A ‘Save the Kinney Family Home” GoFundMe campaign organized on the family’s behalf had raised more than $308,000 as of mid-afternoon Sunday.
An ongoing occupation at the house escalated last week as Multnomah County sheriff’s deputies moved to enforce a court-ordered eviction. Police, faced with a large crowd and volatile crowd, fell back after making several arrests, and those gathered built barricades that blocked off several blocks. Police said they found weapons at the site, and at least one armed sentry has been seen there in the days since.
Julie Metcalf Kinney, who is Native American, and her husband William Kinney Jr., who is Black, owned the home for more than 23 years before losing it to foreclosure for failing to pay the mortgage for nearly a year and half. Julie Metcalf Kinney and the couple’s oldest son, William Kinney III, have asserted their sovereign citizen beliefs that the law does not apply to them and courts have no jurisdiction over them or their debts.
The Kinney family and their supporters say they’re fighting a history of gentrification, discrimination and predatory subprime lending that has gutted Portland’s historically Black neighborhoods and replaced them with apartments and condos.
— The Oregonian/OregonLive
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