Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Flames Up, Officer Down: Gentrification, Eviction, and the Death of James Ferrario

Chrysler Ave
In the early hours of Thursday, April 12th, a Stanislaus County Sheriff, Robert Paris, a Tracy native, as well as Glendon Engert, a Modesto locksmith who was trying to bounce back after a lay-off, came to Chrysler Drive in North-West Modesto to evict someone from their home. Chrysler Drive is located off of Prescott Ave. in Modesto, nestled just to the north of Briggsmore. The housing units that the tenant, James "Jimmy" Ferrario lived in used to be part of 'Prescott Estates,' a notorious poverty stricken neighborhood known for crime, drugs, and gangs. Jimmy's father had owned the house prior to his death in 2008 but the home had slipped into foreclosure, which eviction proceedings starting on January 24th.

On April 12th however, the sheriff and locksmith were not there to serve papers or ask Jimmy to leave, they were there to evict him from the property. When the drilling started however, Ferrario fired several shots, killing both Paris and Engert, the latter who was in the midst of drilling out Ferrario's door. The early morning shooting set in motion an almost 20 hour stand off, in which dozens of residents were removed from their homes by police. Law enforcement from across Stanislaus, San Joaquin, and Merced counties as well as FBI, ATF, and US Marshalls occupied the area in droves, with a large section of Prescott being shut down and access to Chrysler Drive completely blocked. As night fell, police began firing flash bang grenades and tear gas into the home and a fire soon erupted. As Fox 40 reported:
The Sheriff believes [the fire] was started by tear gas that officers had used to try to get the man out. Law enforcement had been monitoring the man's movement. There had been no opportunity for the man to leave, so officers believe that he is dead.
At this time, sheriffs and police claim that the area surrounding the home was evacuated (many people were forced to seek refuge in a nearby church and even spend several nights there). However, a correspondent with Modesto Anarcho who was able to gain access to the scene at Chrysler Aveune and talked with several small groups of people who were only two homes away and between rings of law enforcement that were blocking access to Ferrario's home. Not everyone had been evacuated, either by their own desire or from law enforcement incompetence or inaction. Other families were told to stay in their homes by police and were not allowed to leave. As the fire raged, even with fire department trucks looking on, it became clear that the police were letting the home burn. The morning after the shooting a charred body was found, pressumed to be Ferrario's, although an autopsy report could take weeks.

Adam Christianson, Sheriff
The killing of police officers almost always means that those suspected of shooting back will die. Furthermore it almost always means increased repression against the neighborhoods and communities from which the killers originate from. Adam Christianson has also used the incident to call for more resources for law enforcement agents stating, "I am overwhelmingly frustrated that we don't have sufficient resources to protect the community." The question remains, what will be done with those resources? In an area hit hard by foreclosures and heavy numbers of evictions daily, will residents waiting for the sheriff's knock at the door now face SWAT teams and armored cars?

The killing of Deputy Paris comes at a time when both the Modesto Police Department and the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department is besieged by scandal, investigations, and public resistance to brutality, murder, and corruption. The state always uses the killing of police officers to remind the communities (that like Paris, often they don't live in), just why they should fear and respect the police. 

The Gentrification of Prescott Estates

Prescott Estates refers to a highly concentrated group of housing units that existed off of Prescott Ave. and the surrounding area that in 2001-02 was remodeled and turned into Whispering Woods.

The 78 fourplex housing units were constructed and placed on the market in 1970, but by 1974, 80 of the units had become vacant and there were reports of shoddy upkeep, with many residents drifting into foreclosure. In the 70's, 80's, and 90's, government programs fixed up some of the vacant homes, but problems with crime and vacant buildings persisted. The city responded with more street lights in an attempt to curb crime and in 2000, blocked off of Chrysler Drive and turned it into a one way. Police even put in a sub-station in the area in an effort to drive down crime, but by the early 2000's the city had had enough. City officials began issuing repair notices to units with different problems, and in 2000 a judge appointed a "receiver...over the complex, following a lawsuit filed by owners unhappy with the Prescott Estates Homeowners Association." In October 2000, 95 tenants followed with their own suit, not only against the homeowners association, but also against landlords. The city's response: eviction of the tenants through the "unprecedented action of" condemning the units. In March of 2001 the city began seizing the units of tenants and by November 2001 up to 1,700 residents had been evicted from their homes.
By late 2002, Prescott Estates was gone and 'Whispering Woods' open with 20 fourplex units on the market for rent. 

According to the Modesto Bee, this wave of evictions wasn't just successful in kicking out both the criminal and anti-social elements in Prescott Estates but also the families living in poverty caught in the middle as well - it also help turn a big profit.
By consolidating, the owners could coordinate a massive renovation project. They renamed the community Whispering Woods and began renting out remodeled condos to well-screened tenants. Crime rates plunged and community leaders applauded themselves for having alleviated the neighborhood's squalid living conditions. As the Northern San Joaquin Valley's housing market soared, Whispering Woods began selling the renovated condos for hefty profits. Some individual units that had been purchased in 2001 for $15,000, for example, were sold in 2005 for $150,000. Investors who bought entire fourplexes typically paid more than $500,000 during the peak of the housing boom.
Jim Ferrario, James Ferrario's father
pictured next to 30-day notice.
The poor management of properties helped to maintain a healthy environment for anti-social and criminal elements and it generated massive revenues for slumlords who cashed in off of tenants living in poor conditions. As crime flourished however, pressure to close down Prescott Estates grew as close by neighborhoods became enraged at crime spilling into their streets and created a context for the city to condemn and evict tenants. Thus, those living in the area were efficiently gentrified from their homes and once again landlords and business owners cashed in. But not all of the old tenants were completely removed by the city. The Modesto Bee
To clean up the mess, the RPM Co. of Lodi formed a partnership with a group of Modesto businessmen and acquired about 299 of the condos. One of the few owners who held out, however, was James Henry Ferrario — owner of Unit 1 of 2141 Chrysler Drive, where Thursday's shootings took place. Ferrario had owned and lived in that 810-square-foot condo since about 1972, when it was new. He fought city officials to keep his property, and he continued to live there until his death at age 71 in 2008. Ferrario had three children, a son named James Ferrario and two daughters. At some point, the Ferrario property fell behind on its payments on a $15,000 Bank of America mortgage, which had been taken out in 2003. The property also apparently defaulted on $13,406 owed to the Whispering Woods Community Association. The association foreclosed on the condo last summer, and the bank foreclosed in December. R&T Financial Inc. purchased the condo for $12,988 during the bank's foreclosure auction, and it became the property's legal owner. 
Whispering Woods is now much a different place than before - only one road leads into the area, the rest, blocked by gates. Property management is open 7 days a week working on the grounds. From the Bee: "Garbage cans have to be stored behind privacy fences; parties and drugs are not allowed. Vehicles have to be in working order." In other words, the environment is much more controlled and managed. Police Chief Mike Harden echoed these feelings in an open letter that discussed Prescott Estates turn around by stating that, "...relentless code enforcement can all lend itself to controlling disorderly behavior in public." 

"Call Wasden, I'm on Modesto Anarcho
For cop-politicians like Harden and property managers like those that own Whispering Woods, the key to stopping crime is proper control and repression of the poor - keeping us off the grass and making sure we have a permit for that beer we're drinking. It's also telling that for them, the turning around of the area could only come through the eviction and removal of the people that used to live there, as opposed to stopping the kinds of conditions which give rise to crime in the first place (but of course, that can only come from us ourselves). For them, crime is always a behavioral problem which can only be changed through conditioning using force, repression, and policing. In reality, crime is the result of the inability of the current system to meet needs and the lack of access to resources we all depend on. 

Knock, Knock, GTFO

Evictions, the result of either foreclosures or the removal of a renter from a property can often take months. Tenants can fight the eviction in court and hold off the process for a while, but ultimately after a judge signs an 'unlawful detainer' order the tenant then has 5 days to vacate the property. After these 5 days, sheriffs then can come and change the locks of a building and remove the tenant; this is known as a lockout. Landlords may also choose to hire a private eviction service, such as the infamously shady Patriot Evictions Service based in Modesto. Such businesses often use 'illegal lockouts,' in which company goons either harass tenants into leaving or landlords simply change the locks while a tenant is out of the home. In doing so, landlords can get out of months of going to court and allowing the tenant to fight the eviction (as well as often keep their deposit).This kind of activity is not rare and is a fast and easy way for landlords to remove a renter from a property and get someone else into the facility. 

According to an article in the Modesto Bee, evictions in Stanislaus County average about 10 per day, and more often than not, involve the physical removal of the occupants. 
[A sheriff] said that when he took over the civil division nearly four years ago, the home would be empty 70 percent to 80 percent of the time when the deputies showed up. But now...the homes are occupied 70 percent of the time.

Read more here: http://www.modbee.com/2012/04/12/2155618/evictions-come-at-vulnerable-moments.html#storylink=cpy
But while police state that evictions have gone down from an average of over 15 per day down to 10, this is due in part to the fact that banks and landlords are hiring eviction services to carry out the evictions as opposed to paying the Sheriffs. Thus, eviction businesses have seen a rise in evictions, both of homeowners and renters.
 [T]he number of evictions conducted by deputies has dropped steadily, from 16 to 19 a day nearly four years ago to nine to 11 today...banks are more likely to carry out evictions and not pay the Sheriff's Department to carry out an eviction. Landlord's Eviction Service owner Bruce Doerksen said his Modesto-based business did 735 residential evictions in 2005, compared with 775 residential evictions last year.

Read more here: http://www.modbee.com/2012/04/12/2155618/evictions-come-at-vulnerable-moments.html#storylink=cpy
Landlords are turning more
towards private eviction services.
Thus, with the worsening economy and the continued housing crisis, evictions through the police have remained high and more and more, been privatized out to private companies. Also, the numbers of families and individuals which come into contact with the people that are evicting them only continues to rise - people who quite literally have nowhere to go and are in desperate situations when they are physically locked out and evicted. Furthermore, the growth of the eviction industry in the Central Valley has also lead to the practice of "illegal lockouts" and the harassment of tenants from landlords in an effort to remove tenants when they are unwanted. Is it any wonder why so many people are at the end of their rope when they come into contact with those that are trying to evict them?

We must also keep in mind the case of Kari Abbey, who in 2010, shot and killed Rita Elias in West-Modesto. Abbey was a Stanislaus County Sheriff at the time who helped evict tenants for her landlord parents. While attempting to evict Elias from her home, Abbey got into an argument with her which ended in her shooting and killing Elias. In the wake of the shooting, Abbey was arrested for having a stockpile of guns, drugs, marijuana plants, and other illegal items at her home, but it was also revealed that she was evicting and harassing tenants of her parents - all while in uniform and sometimes with the help of other law enforcement officers. It is telling the difference in coverage the death or Rita Elias has received when compared to the death of Deputy Paris. Paris is portrayed as a hero and Elias as a scumbag who deserved to by shot by an officer who feared for her life. Who knows how many other tenants are coming into contact with law enforcement who are working directly for landlords outside of the bonds of the what the state considers 'legal;' often with disastrous results.

The Shape of Evictions to Come?

In 2005, a Ceres police officer was shot and killed by Andres Raya, a Marine returning from Iraq. In the wake of the shooting, police began targeting the neighborhood where Raya lived, raiding homes without warrants, stopping children at gunpoint, and taking pictures and documentation of many young Chicanos and cataloging them as gang members. While some residents organized themselves and fought back, the point here is that local police and Stanislaus County Sheriffs drastically changed the way in which they interacted with the poor and brown communities that they policed in the wake of the shooting. Ceres police also secured new weapons and armory after the shooting, including a tactical bearcat vehicle and bigger guns.

The question remains then, will evictions carried out by both Stanislaus County Sheriffs and private eviction companies become more militarized? Politicians looking to secure votes from 'law and order' citizens will also be happy to throw more money Adam Christianson's way, arming the Sheriff's Department with more officers, more guns, and more equipment. With the recent shooting death of a man in Keyes by a Stanislaus County Sheriff on April 16th, the second officer involved shooting death of a civilian in Stanislaus County just that day, what remains clear is that brutality and death dished out from local law enforcement is not going to stop - it will increase.

More Dangerous for Who?

The killing of Deputy Paris has again raised the question of if violence against police is on the rise. According to Copblock.org:
...the last 25 years, we see that officer deaths have been on a slow trend downward with a few outlier years in both directions.  Deaths specifically due to violence directed at an officer have followed the same downward trend as the total number of deaths. Of course the “War on Cops” lie serves an important purpose for the police in the court of public opinion.  If the public believes that the police are in more danger than ever they are more likely to excuse all sorts of misbehavior, including excessive force and outright murder. Every time an officer beats an individual, the police inevitability invoke “officer safety” as the reason that we should excuse such violence. 
Police kill more people than
people kill cops.
But while the deaths of officers on duty has gone down since the 1970's, the numbers of deaths of civilians at the hands of officers has only gone up. While there exists no exact data of the total number of people killed by law enforcement per year, a recent article on Reason.com explores the issue:
Ten times more civilians were killed by cops than cops were killed by civilians in 2008, but you won’t find that information in [a] New York Times story... From 2003 to 2009, 4,813 people died in relation to an arrest in “all manners of deaths.” Each year ranged from 627 (2003) to 745 (2007). Of those, 2,913 (about 6 in 10) were reported as “homicide by law enforcement.” Each year ranged from 375 (2004) to 497 (2009). In 2008, law enforcement killed roughly 10 times the number of people during arrests (404) than officers killed (41). Since 2001, at least 500 people have been killed as a result of being tasered by officers in the United States alone.
As Kristian Williams wrote:
Comparing the numbers we see that the police use violence (546,000 times in 2005) nine times as often as they face it (57,546 times that year). An analysis of fatal incidents shows a similar imbalance: During the period 2003-2005, 380 police died on duty. Only 159 of these deaths were homicides, while 221 were the result of accidents. During that same time, 1,095 people were killed by law enforcement officers in the process of arrest. That averages 365 per year, or one a day.
What is very clear is that the number of officers killed while on the job is nowhere near the amount of people that are killed during daily interactions with police, both on the street and in police custody. And, as in every situation, those killed by the police are presented as dangerous criminals and thugs in the media and by the police, while law enforcement officers that die while on the job are portrayed as heroes. Again, Kristian Williams:
Police funerals, in contrast, are public pageants that the cops can use to silence their critics. They pull politicians into mandatory displays of support, and are dutifully portrayed by the media as memorials of heroism and sacrifice. In either case, the victim is converted into a symbol. But there are important differences: Police shootings are relatively common, but only rarely create public controversy. The victim is usually forgotten, except by those who knew him personally. The cops involved are often treated as heroes and issued commendations.
The police, however, do defend their right to kill. And, in particular, they use those specific instances when they are attacked to justify their much more general reliance on force. By this account, people who attack the police are criminals, and the police need to defend themselves. And the people the police attack are also criminals — and therefore, potential attackers. Thus, the cops represent their own violence as being always defensive. The facts, however, show that police use violence far more often than it is used against them, at higher levels, and with more fatal consequences. 
Policing is based on violence. Through the media and also the state that is serves, violence against the police is always potrayed as criminal and insane. At the same time, the very real, ever powerful, and ever growing violence of the police is always potrayed as justified and heroic. One of our tasks, in every situation and in every struggle, is to show that the government always has a monopoly of violence and our resistance to that violence is needed and nessessary. Resistance is also something that will always happen when people are pushed to the edge; people will respond, they will hit back, but the question now, as always is: how can we organize ourselves so that we actually win?

Walking along Prescott Ave. on April 12th and seeing several full blocks of police all with full combat weapons and armed vehicals, as scores of residents are displaced and taken from their homes, holed up on the floor of a nearby Church, we can see the ever real social war that is playing itself out in this society. More and more people are being pushed to the edge; driven by lack of access to basic nessessities and an inability to make ends meet. At the same time, the government cranks up repression, dishes out more evictions, and the police become more brutal than ever. Until we begin to fight back against this system of misery and exploitation, only more people will be driven to choose between finally saying enough is enough...and being burned alive.


  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgVBY72KlB4
    We can’t choose how we enter the game, but we can choose how we leave…

  2. Seems like more and more people think/feel that it is OK to not pay their bills. It's okay to decieve these landlords, right?!?! I get it you think it is not stealing huh? Well let me clue you in on something my little gang banger, it's stealing. It's openly robbing someone and using the law to hide behind. To NOT think of the person you are screwing over is pathethic! Really?!?!? Promoting the material using of fellow human beings!?!? Whether the renter is paying it or the landlord is paying there are bills and mortages that go along with having rental property. Saying use the law to legally force someone to support someone else is a downright dispecable trait. Advice for the day: Do not buy what you can not afford. Take care of yourself and your dependants first before you invite all the 1st and 2nd cousins you have to live with you. Provide the basics before you buy your drugs. Pretty simple.


  4. You're such an easy person to figure out. Let me see...criminal...criminally minded, or straight up freaking lunatic idiot that has no understanding of social interaction in a large society. It is plainly obvious that your bias is probably hispanic and therefore hate all things not Latino. You yourself may not be Latino, but you probably side with their people. I hope to God that you are never entrusted with parenthood or similar responsibility....it would be very sad for any of your pathetic ideas to be spawned to a new generation...and even more sad would be the idea of justice in any child that you raised.

  5. You're a lunatic if you're not a racist?

  6. Thank God for the comments in response to your poorly made arguement. Get your facts straight. By the way, Deputy Paris did live in Modesto. He was a hero to the community, and to anyone whose life he touched. He was out earning a living, being responsible, doing his job. No weapon in hand. Killed by a jerk with an assault rifle. Paris did not deserve to die. If one wants to go out with a bang, it should be on himself, not taking the life of someone else. You are a sad reflection of the pathetic portion of our society!God bless & protect our Law Enforcement!

  7. The article wasn't in praise of James. Simply says that evictions in the local area are increases both via the police and private companies. With more people being pushed to the brink, it's possible that these kinds of things will increase.

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