Tlaib, protesters demand Detroit police halt assisting evictions


Detroit – More than 50 protesters gathered outside the Detroit Police Department’s 10th district on Saturday. The demanding officials stop helping with evictions after a family was allegedly squatted by a landlord.

Local activist groups Detroit Eviction Defense and Detroit Will Breathe called for protests to seek justice for Whitney Burney and her four children, who were evicted from their home in northwest Detroit on December 19.

The landlord allegedly told police that Burney was a squatter and was being assisted in evicting four police officers from the precinct, Burney said. The Detroit Police Department could not reveal the landlord’s name until an investigation.

The activists claim the police would have known the landlord was wrong if they saw the story of the text messages Burney had between her and the landlord to recognize her as a tenant.

Burney said the landlord sexually molested her and was hostile after she refused his advances.

Whitney Burney, center, speaks to supporters outside the Detroit Police Department's 10th District on Saturday, Jan. 16.  She says four officers helped evict her illegally based on the landlord's claim that she was a squatter.

It was “a very traumatizing experience,” said Burney. “My children and I had to leave our home, all our belongings and Christmas gifts on a cold winter’s day.”

Burney said before she rented the house, she and her children lived in an animal shelter and tried to get back on their feet. She also claimed that she called the police to file a lawsuit prior to the eviction and that the officer would not take her report.

After the protest, Detroit Police Cmdr. Tiffany Stewart told The Detroit News that officials will not be involved in evictions.

“There’s a guideline,” said Stewart. “That day we sent reports from a squatter to the place … A commander-level investigation revealed that the assigned sergeant was not in line with guidelines at the time and this is under review.”

City officials are working with the Detroit Police Department and their nonprofit partners “to make sure Burney gets well,” Stewart said.

Chelsea Neblett, Detroit’s financial assistance manager, said Dec. 21 the city became aware of the incident and immediately sought help from the United Community Housing Coalition and other resources for the displaced family.

“We met with Whitney at the property on December 23 and were unable to retrieve her items (without a warrant). We have arranged a case manager for her and are currently assisting her with a hotel stay while they work on permanent housing for her” Neblett told The News.

Members of the Detroit Eviction Defense and Detroit Will Breathe are marching to the 10th District Police Department in Detroit on January 16, 2021.

As the protesters marched from Nardin Park to the Detroit Police Department on Livernois Avenue, they were met by officers on their doorsteps.

The crowd, led by Detroit Will Breathe organizer Tristan Taylor, requested the names of the officials who assisted the eviction and requested that they be removed from the department. They also urged officials to stop assisting the evictions without first filing a case in court.

Stewart told them, “We respect your right to protest. We hear you and understand your concern. At this point, we made sure our officials are trained to prevent this from happening again.”

US Representative Rashida Tlaib joined the protest on Saturday, saying that many single mothers in the city have been attacked by predatory landlords.

“It is more traumatic for them to use the government-funded police for the illegal eviction,” Tlaib told the demonstrators. “It is so important to understand that we are in a global public pandemic and they still have time to face a sexual predator to evict a mother and her four children in the middle of winter. It is unfair and it is a story of many. “

Tlaib recalled stories of undocumented residents being exploited by landlords who wanted to have sex with their children as a form of rent payment.

US Representative Rashida Tlaib speaks to members of the Detroit Police’s 10th District about the eviction of single mother Whitney Burney and her four children just before Christmas.

After the march, Tlaib also confronted officials to inform them of the December events.

“That continues to happen,” said Tlaib. “When they call the police, the police criminalize them. They focus on the poor, the vulnerable, not the predators, not the people who are targeting our neighbors.”

Joe McGuire, a spokesman for Detroit Eviction Defense, said the organization helped Burney rewrite the report.

“I went there myself and saw the house stripped empty, their things strewn on the lawn, mirrors smashed, a garbage can full of things,” said McGuire. “While there were still some things inside, the police did not open the house to get those things back because they did not have an arrest warrant.”

Detroit Eviction Defense's Joe McGuire stands on the steps of Detroit's 10th Ward with Tristian Taylor of Detroit Will Breathe to hand over a list of claims to the Police Department.

McGuire, along with Taylor, said, “This is not a new topic, but a movement that can make sure people are protected.”

“Getting an eviction in court is not a slow process. Do it so that a judge can review, so the tenant has a chance to tell their side of the story. … There is no excuse to process this to bypass. ” Said McGuire.

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Twitter: @SarahRahal_