A mass of anti-eviction protesters effectively walled off the entrances to a New Orleans courthouse Thursday, with activists demanding that government officials spare struggling renters from homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The protesters, part of a demonstration that was supported by the New Orleans Renters Rights Assembly, stood in front of entrances with signs that read “Keep eviction courts closed,” “Evict the courts,” and “Cancel rent,” according to a live stream of the protest.
At times, protesters chanted “Court is closed” or kept people from entering the courthouse by grouping together in a tight-knit crowd. Some protesters wore chains around their waists, according to photos published by NOLA.com.
The demonstration, which was held at the First City Court, led to the rescheduling of some cases, although it wasn’t immediately clear how many eviction cases were delayed there. According to NOLA.com, 343 eviction cases have been filed in the First City Court in the past seven weeks.
“All of the judges, attorneys, litigants, witnesses and visitors seeking entry to the courthouse were affected in one way or another by the activities outside of the courthouse — not just the parties to eviction proceedings,” Walt Pierce, a spokesperson for the Orleans Parish Civil District Court, said in an emailed statement. “Judges are rescheduling cases where needed for that very reason.”
While a pandemic-related moratorium kept Louisianans safe from eviction for months, it ended on June 15, leaving jobless renters suddenly vulnerable to homelessness. Pierce said eviction cases have carried on since then, adding that “where the law allows for evictions to proceed, the judges must follow the law. “
But the New Orleans protesters want the protections back.
“The governor hasn’t listened, the mayor hasn’t listened,” Frank Southall, an organizer with the New Orleans Renters Rights Assembly, told NOLA.com. “Re-close eviction court until you have a plan.”
Similar executive orders or court-imposed moratoriums have expired across much of the country in recent months; more than half of all states currently lack the protections. That’s anguished both anti-poverty advocates and the renters who say that they can’t adequately protect themselves from COVID-19 while homeless, or get back on their feet quickly enough to find replacement housing.
Additionally, the national moratorium created to spare millions of tenants from being kicked out of federally backed homes through the CARES Act just ended last week. And the extra $600-a-week unemployment benefit — also brought about by the CARES Act — is set to run out on jobless Americans Friday, just before August rent comes due.
New Orleans’ demonstration wasn’t the only anti-eviction protest Thursday, either.
Tenant activists in Kansas City also descended upon Missouri’s Jackson County Courthouse to block eviction proceedings. They entered courtrooms and declared that evictions were an act of violence, according to the Kansas City Star.
“Eviction is already a fundamentally traumatic event, both a cause and a condition of poverty, and the pandemic adds yet more anguish,” activists with Missouri Jobs With Justice and KC Tenants wrote on a Facebook event page for the protest.
“Some people will move into motels, shelters, their cars, and double up in other housing units. Others will end up on the streets. All of these circumstances pose great risks to people, especially as COVID-19 cases continue to spike across the state. Let us be clear: evictions will be a death sentence for our most vulnerable neighbors.”
Two demonstrators — both of them Black women — were arrested in the protest, according to a tweet from KC Tenants.
But KC Tenants said in a tweet that activists had successfully “shut down all four Jackson County, Missouri eviction dockets, in person AND on the phone.”
The Jackson County Circuit Court said in a statement that the proceedings did not actually stop occurring, while acknowledging that people have the right to contact their officials, gather, and “demand action.”
“However, those persons who disrupted today’s court proceedings, although ultimately unsuccessful in their attempt to keep the hearings from occurring, actually interfered with the rights of the parties who were attempting to participate in those proceedings – including attorneys who were there representing the rights of the very tenants for whom those protesters were purportedly advocating,” the court said in the statement.
Cover: Anti-eviction protesters effectively walled off the entrances to a New Orleans courthouse on July 30, 2020. (Facebook: New Orleans Renters Rights Assembly)