(ed. Originally published September 12, 3013 – here!)
The Battle for Wall Street
The ring of a bicycle bell chimes repeatedly through the air – breaking the monotony of the muzak version of “La Cucaracha” resounding in loops from a stopped ice cream truck. Both are lost amongst the excited chatter of the large crowd congregating in an alley just off Main and 99th Streets as those gathered shelter themselves in thin layers of shade from the heat of the late July sun. Around the corner, a woman in curlers argues with a young man with tattoos and large plugs in his ears, “Your boss is a thief, and you ain’t nothing but his lackey.” Ariana Alcaraz, of the L.A. Anti-Eviction Campaign (L.A.A.E.C), checks her phone repeatedly, waiting for the go signal. The final battle for Wall Street is about to begin.
Two weeks earlier, on July 12, 2013, three men sat in a car on Wall St. just south of 99th St. in South Los Angeles, stalking the movements of Ms. Cathelene Hughes. As soon as Ms. Hughes left to attend a function at her church, the men crept quickly to her door, broke in, and ILLEGALLY changed the locks. These men were not unknown to Ms. Hughes. They worked for Strategic Acquisitions, agents of Colony Realty, which is owned and operated by Thomas Barrack of Santa Monica. Colony had purchased the title to her home for pennies on the dollar at a trustee’s sale in August 2012.
After being informed by a neighbor what was happening, the 71years young Ms. Hughes immediately called both the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the LAPD and attempted to file reports in person. As instructed by LAPD, she waited in front of her home for three hours for a lieutenant to arrive and do his duty under the law – to reverse the lockout- all the while frantically making phone calls and looking for a safe place to spend the night with her pet chihuahua Prince, who was locked in the house when the investors changed the locks. As the warm sunlight gave way to the cold darkness, Ms. Hughes called the police station again. The lieutenant wasn’t coming.
Mrs. Hughes was another victim of bank fraud. Her income was inflated on her loan application, and her mortgage nearly doubled after just two years. “I was denied a modification ten times because my loan was adjusting. I had no idea it was an adjustable. A guy from Countrywide called and told me that it was adjusting a couple weeks before they did it. Then he explained the situation to me.”
She paid thousands of dollars to people promising to negotiate modifications. Bank of America, which took over her original lender Countrywide in 2008, sold her house to Colony Realty – even as her bankruptcy application, which would have given her time to find an attorney, was pending in court.
In February 2013, Colony, under the subsidiary Colfin AI CA 5, an LLC which Colony uses to acquire properties in dispute, evicted Ms. Hughes from her home. Even though she had been working with a social worker from Adult Protective Services, the only housing available to her was a temporary homeless shelter. She had played by the rules her whole life – worked within the system as far as she could go, done everything she was asked to do – yet still, she had lost her home. She had learned too late that “the system isn’t made to help us, only to exploit us until we have nothing left, then they throw us away.” That was when Ms. Cathelene Hughes decided to change the rules.
She joined the Los Angeles Anti-Eviction Campaign, a human rights organization dedicated to fostering a culture of self defense against the exploitation of poor communities, and filed a suit for title against Deutsche Bank, Bank of America, and Colony, as well as an eviction lawsuit against Peter Baher, CEO of Strategic on the basis of fraud. She obtained a judgment and a writ of execution against Baher, and on March 6 the L.A. Sheriff’s Department allowed her to move back into her vacant home.
Ms. Hughes wasted no time during the few peaceful weeks after reclaiming her home. She opened an Anti-Eviction Campaign office in her garage, helping several of her neighbors stop their evictions, and holding community events and meetings in both English and Spanish – successfully bridging the language and culture gap between longtime neighbors who until recently had been strangers to one another.
Over the next four months, amid constant harassment and attempted intimidation by agents of Colony and Strategic, Ms. Hughes went about proving that the system is prejudiced against anyone attempting to fight an eviction as a defendant. Even after filing 5 separate ex-parte motions and attending almost a dozen court hearings, billionaire Thomas Barrack still could not manage to legally re-evict her. The only way for Colony to regain control of the property they had helped Deutsch and BOA steal from Ms. Hughes was to send their thugs to perform an illegal lock out.
It’s now July 29 and the crowd in the alley – joined by friends and neighbors, as well as supporters from Los Angeles Community Action Network, Revolutionary Autonomous Communities, LA Human Right to Housing Collective, and Occupy Fights Foreclosure – has swelled to over 50. Around the corner, Ms. Hughes continues to argue with the man with the plugs, one of the Strategic agents who preformed the illegal lock out. He insists that she finish moving her things in the next 10 minutes – warning her that whatever she can’t pack in that time will go in the trash – to which Ms. Hughes, her son, Dion, and the two L.A.A.E.C. members in the house respond with disregard.
As he steps outside to call more employees, in an attempt to intimidate his point home, Ms. Hughes looks at one of her fellow organizers and nods her head. A text is sent immediately, “GO”. The crowd begins to move quickly up the block, a group of neighborhood children with “No Displacement Zone” signs taped to the handlebars of their bikes lead the way, proclaiming loudly, “WE WANT FREEDOM!!” The crowd rounds the corner and swarms into the house, pushing the shocked agent out of the yard and into the street. “Who’s house? MS. HUGHES HOUSE!”
The Strategic agent retreats down the street to call the police as expected. Some of Ms. Hughes’s supporters set up a popcorn maker and a hot dog machine while others help her finish moving her things out of the house. More neighbors flock to her house, joining the festive atmosphere. The crowd continues to chant loudly “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! HOUSING IS A HUMAN RIGHT!”
Within 15 minutes, an LAPD lieutenant arrives with 35 officers in tow. They are greeted by Eric Post, a representative of the National Lawyer’s Guild, who has courteously printed out the law on illegal lock outs and is more than ready to explain it in great detail to every officer on scene. While the police block off the street to prevent more neighbors from joining the crowd, Ms. Hughes finishes loading her meager possessions into a U-Haul.
A line of 15 police move in and are visibly surprised when the crowd shifts to let them through. This action was never about keeping her home. Ms. Hughes did this to prove a point, and the LAPD, in their attempts to criminalize her legal and constitutionally protected activity, proved it better than she ever could have alone.
The crowd gathers on the corners outside the police line. A neighbor speak up, “Somebody tried to break into my house last month, the police never came, I had to go down to the station to file a report, but they come out in force like this just to kick an elder out of her house? It’s ridiculous.” Another chimes in, “The only time we see the police is when they’re attacking us.”
Ms. Hughes, along with millions of others across the country, was yet another victim of the largest scam in world history. Thomas Barrack was one of countless investors whose greed nearly caused the collapse of the world economy. He is now profiting from his crimes by buying properties distressed by the market conditions that he helped create at a fraction of their value (Colfin has acquired over 7000 trustee’s deeds just since June 2011). Colony and Deutsche Bank are now gearing up to bundle these rental contracts into securities – creating yet another bubble that will put many more people on the streets when it bursts. But have dozens of officers ever shown up at his home? No.
Malcolm X once said, “In America, Democracy is hypocrisy.” Through her actions, Ms. Hughes proved to her friends and neighbors that this is true. She has still not been able to secure long term housing. When asked what was next for her, she selflessly replied, “Well, there are still a lot of people who need help.”
As she stated in a letter circulated to her community earlier that July day, “Yes, I am tired. I am tired of being victimized, I am tired of being intimidated, I am tired of being afraid, I am tired of allowing more and more vital things to be taken away while keeping quiet, desperately trying to hold on to the meager things I need to survive. I am tired of the police we pay to protect us instead protecting those who exploit and attack us. While I may legally be able to do what I have done today, I do not do this for myself. I do this to give you an example of how to fight back, because only if we stand together can we win.”
“Peace to you, if you are willing to fight for it.” – Ramona Hampton
For more info on our comrades at LAAEC or to get involved, please visit and “like” their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/laantieviction