I recently met a woman whose family was illegally evicted from their home at the behest of a landlord who'd refused to make repairs. An article about their situation and their struggle to regain the home follows.
Occupy Home: The Mason Family’s Eviction and Occupy Philly's Pledge to Help
On the morning of September 1st, the police arrived, then left shortly afterward. This was not uncommon, Florence Mason’s 13-year-old son Clifton says. “It’s been a lot of times they came and harassed us, and every time we had our papers.” But that day, Florence Mason left the house to go to court, and the police returned.
“My brother [20-year-old Vincent, Jr.] was like, ‘What are you trying to do? Why are you here again?’ so they said to get off the porch,” Clifton Mason says. “So we all got off the porch, and they started to put handcuffs on us. My brother Vincent said if they were to take him, he was going to go by himself – and just leave us alone. After that, they hit him, they slammed him in the car, and they started beating him. He wasn’t doing anything.”
A neighbor, Lillian Smith, asked the police to let her take the two youngest children until their mother could get home. “They were going to take them to juvenile hall—that was what the captain said, because they were loud. They were upset.”
Smith was also concerned for Vincent, Jr: “I witnessed that the cuffs were a little bit tight, and when they were putting the young man in the van, his head got hit. I just don’t like to see anybody’s head get hit, because that’s where – he’s going to be a doctor or a lawyer or something, and you hurt that child.”
“They were just slamming him against the car,” says Smith’s granddaughter, Lisa Bailey, 15. “The older girl, Crystal [who is 18], got really upset, because they were throwing her older brother in there, so she started to flip out also. So they threw her on the floor and handcuffed her ankles and her arms.”
“The police were very rough with them,” adds a third neighbor, who does not want her name to be used. “Just like you see with Occupy Wall Street, you know, they were very rough with these kids.”
“The lady [cop] came over and tripped my sister, so she’s on the ground,” Clifton Mason says. “My 11-year-old sister [Sherriah]. She was crying. They were saying they were going to call the Department of Human Services DHS.”
“They threw the young girl [Sherriah] down in the street and handcuffed her,” the third neighbor says. “I got a paper towel to wipe her face off, and they told me to get back. She was so traumatized. She was just staring off into space with tears running down her face. They also got a moving van to take the stuff out of the house. The street was filled with cops. Everybody up and down the street was upset. One neighbor at the end of the block came out of the shower with shampoo in her hair. The police were out here constantly. They would always intimidate these kids, and they always come when the mother’s not there.”
Before police allowed Lillian Smith to take Sherriah and Clifton into her home, Clifton was sitting handcuffed in a police car. “I was like, ‘Why you all got me in here?” he says. “[The police officer] was like, ‘I’ll take off my badge and fight you.’” Clifton asked what would happen to the family dog, a German Shepherd named Sam, and the police told him not to worry—they would take care of her, he says.
Meanwhile, Florence Mason rushed home after receiving a call from Crystal. “Just imagine being on the phone and hearing your kids screaming, and you can’t do anything to help,” she says. “It still hurts me. I have nightmares about that day, hearing my children hollering, ‘Mommy, they’re arresting us!’ and my daughter’s heart-wrenching scream."
Two days later, while the family was trying to locate Sam, the police Animal Control Unit put the dog to sleep.
“They ransacked everything”
Crystal and Vincent were released, their charges were dropped, and the Masons returned to their family home. But on October 14th, they were evicted again—and this time, the family sought refuge with relatives.
Florence Mason says, “When the chief or captain was out here, he let the landlord go through the basement, and while he was standing out there fussing with me, they were cutting the pipes and pulling out the wires to the heaters and the hot water heater. They just ransacked everything, and they took TVs, my laptops, my dishes, and my dining room set. They took my dresser drawers and threw them on the floor, and now there’s mice stuff all in there.
“We were out in the pouring rain that day. Half of us had no jackets on. And we were directly across the street. The car was right there and the police officer was just sitting there, and I went over to her to show my paperwork. She said, ‘You ain’t showing me nothing.’ So as I was walking back, the landlady comes over to her, and the guys from the moving trucks are sitting in the truck, and she’s talking to her. While I’m turning my back, my son and them start screaming, ‘Oh no, we ain’t see that! How many denominations is that?’
“I said, ‘What do you mean, denomination?’ So he’s like, ‘Mom, she just gave the cop money.’ Then all of them jumped in the car and pulled off.”
Clifton Mason says, “After they took our stuff, the owner of the house went to the front of the car, and she walked over to the window, and she came out with money out of her pocket, and she gave it to her. The cop lady rolled down the window, and she gave it to her. In front of neighbors—we all saw her. She gave the cop the money. And the cop was like, ‘I didn’t see anything. Nobody told me to do anything.’”
He adds, “If you’re going to bribe somebody, why would you do it in front of everybody?”
“This happened on October 14th, and we got back in the house, and we stayed until that morning, the 15th,” Florence Mason says. “And then the cops came, because I reported the bribe on a 911 call.”
And then, Florence Mason was arrested. She spent two weeks in the county jail.
A fourth neighbor, who didn’t want his name to be used, says that he has since seen signs of life in the house—unfortunately, however, not signs the Masons had anything to do with.
“About a week ago, while I’m out cleaning the leaves up in the back, I notice a ladder and a window open to this house,” he says. “A couple nights, I come home from work, it’s dark, and I could see a TV set or something, through the blinds. I said, ‘Wait a minute, nobody’s supposed to be there, as far as I know.’
“They’re a quiet family,” he adds. “They cause no trouble around the neighborhood. They’re a happy family.”
But she’s proud of the example she’s made for her children by advocating for her rights and theirs. And she’s determined to return to her family’s only home, despite everything she has been through. “I don’t care how much you do to me, I’m going to eventually, one way or another, find a way back.”