Photo: Palm Beach Tenants Union rallies against poor conditions in Stonybrook Apartments
By Ben Robinson
On January 16, four families in Palm Beach County were violently evicted by police from Stonybrook Apartments after two years of resistance against their slumlord Frank Sinito, under the name Millennia Housing. All of the evicted families were members of the Palm Beach County Tenants Union, including the family of Crystal Lewis, the union’s president.
The Palm Beach Tenants Union has fought against inhumane conditions at Stonybrook including sewage backed up into tenants’ bathtubs, broken pipes, black mold, pests, and other serious issues. The Union is tenant-led and has utilized various tactics ranging from lawsuits to rent strikes and protests. Previous actions have included tenants barricading themselves in their apartments.
The families evicted last week had been withholding rent legally since July 2018, but in the Union’s words, they were evicted “in retaliation for the recent tenant protests and legal filings.”
The raid itself was brutal, occurring early in the morning when the larger community was not present to support the families. Without notice, the police came with axes and sledgehammers, and drew their guns on one family. Lewis stated in a Facebook post that she felt like she “had committed a crime in my sleep, the way they knocked [the door] down in came in,” and that she hid her children in the closet to prevent them from being held at gunpoint.
“This put a chill on all resistance,” a Union representative told Incendiary. The brutality was intentional; the police were there to send a message that fighting against a slumlord in order to secure safe and humane conditions is not tolerated. The role of police as enforcers for the ruling class was shown with striking clarity: they are not for the people, but to protect bourgeois property rights.
The tenants organized themselves and resisted tenaciously for two years, but their slumlord, with the aid of police, was ultimately able to utilize brute force methods to force their eviction. Like the recent militarized eviction of Moms 4 Housing in Oakland, the police took advantage of a time when tenants were most vulnerable and outside support could be caught unaware.
The evictions demonstrate the limitations of legal channels of resistance. Without an organization that can stand guard and mobilize militant resistance capable of beating back state repression, long term successes cannot be won.
The four families are currently living in hotels paid for by homelessness nonprofits. City officials have claimed credit, even though funds came from elsewhere and were fought for through pressure from tenants and the community. They will continue to require support going forward, especially when the state no longer feels compelled to give them resources once the cameras of the bourgeois media turn away from the struggle. Incendiary readers can donate to their online fundraiser here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/stonybrook-eviction-defense