In Denver County court today the first of the Resurrection Village trials concluded with a guilty verdict in the courtroom of County Judge Beth Faragher . In October a police raid on the village of tiny homes that had been erected at Sustainability Park ended in the arrest of 10 people for trespassing.
Today in court, Delbert Razee was found guilty of the charge by a six-member jury. The case was the result of an October 24, 2015 community event where a permaculture organization whose lease had ended and not renewed was being forced by the Denver Housing Authority to vacate the park and to relocate gardens, trees, and greenhouses. The Denver Housing Authority evicted the gardens because the land was being sold to a private developer, a practice that is being seen across the country where once public housing or public land is being sold for privately developed upper scale housing.
Marcus Hyde who organizes with the homeless advocacy group Denver Homeless Out Loud explained at the October event, “The developer here is going to ‘greenwash’ this development and now he’s going to build micro-units, 500-square foot or less, $300,000 each. No low-income people can move into those projects or the next plot which used to be public housing.”
On October 24th about 150 people gathered on the land to hear the history of the park and to share food, music, and stories before removing the gardens on one end of the park while another group gathered to erect tiny homes for those who were without a home.
Tiny home villages are springing up around the country and successful projects are being seen in Washington, Oregon, California and Massachusetts. But in Denver, the group said that they had been trying to communicate with Mayor Michael Hancock for two years about a space to place tiny homes.
At the October community event, Karen Snead gave KGNU a tour of Sustainability Park and how the group decided on the name Resurrection Village for the tiny homes community,
“There was also this really great thing that Martin Luther King was up to right before he was assassinated. And he was basically organizing across class lines, across gender lines to unite people who were poor or of the lower class or struggling through poverty and he was looking across these lines to address this monster of capitalism and why people were in this economic situation. So what they were planning was an encampment on the Washington Mall to ask the federal government for more affordable housing and to lift out of the economic situation that they were in. And that encampment was called Resurrection City. So while they were organizing this King was assassinated. He was shot. So not a lot of people know about the Poor People’s Economic Rights Campaign because all of the media attention went to his death.”
Five tiny homes were erected that day with the help of a large group of volunteers who came from distant areas in the front range. Within just a couple of hours, five tiny homes were in the final stages of completion. Some of the homes were built of recycled material and one had a matching pane glass door and window.
In testimony Delbert Razee, a University of Colorado graduate in English literature said that he had fallen on hard times and was living on the streets. He learned about the tiny home village and decided to go to Sustainability Park to see about the chance of securing a tiny home.
By evening those who thought they had found a safe place to sleep that night and would not be forced to sleep on the street instead found themselves in jail. By evening dozens of police, a swat team, a gang unit, and a helicopter arrived on the scene. The helicopter hovered in such close proximity that it could shine a spotlight on the scene and drowned out voices according to those who were there.
The helicopter swarmed over the scene for forty minutes.
A city dump truck was called to the scene and the tiny homes were demolished and thrown into the trash. Not only were the dwellers’ homes destroyed and trashed, but Razee testified that the personal belongings such as backpacks and wallets of some of those arrested were never returned.
Razee testified that when the barrage of different factions of law enforcement arrived on the scene, he and others assembled at the back of one of the tiny homes. He said that among a confusing scene of screaming and yelling outside that he was inside in the back of one of the tiny homes consoling a friend who was holding her bible and praying.
An observer of the raid also described the scene as chaotic. He identified himself as Kyle, “[There were] all these cops and they blocked off roads and I don’t know how much they spent but I think they might be trying to justify with their verdict. They almost hypnotized the audience. I felt like this jury was coached along. There should be something in the law that says if you think ‘not guilty’ cause the law is wrong so you can say ‘not guilty’ because you think that the law is unjust.”
In court, Razee’s attorney Frank Ingham said in opening statements that the city should be ashamed at the amount spent on the police action that night and that with the money spent by the City of Denver, that all could have been housed that night. Ingham responded to the guilty verdict,
“If you watched all of the video the officers are going out of their way to be polite and give you every chance to leave and that’s admirable but if you follow the law as its written I don’t believe that they should have been able to convict him. He wasn’t there when the warnings were given. And the law is pretty clear that says you’re permission to be on the property must be revoked by someone with lawful control. While it was revoked, he wasn’t there to hear it. But in the meantime, that’s not what’s really going on. That was a show of force. There was a helicopter, spotlights, SWAT gear from the officers. What may have sounded polite certainly didn’t look that way if you’re a homeless person. And that’s what we’re dealing with, homeless people trying to figure out where they should live and all of a sudden police are zeroing in on them. And it’s scary.”
Delbert Razee expressed his disappointment.
“I’m a little disappointed. I find myself on the right side of the cause. I look forward to a time period when we can have an open dialogue with the Denver Housing Authority, with the Denver Police Department, with the Denver Sheriff’s Department that introduce our communities to each other again. We have a level of ‘protect and serve’ that has been lost in a lot of militancy and a lot of incarceration and I’m just another product of the criminalization of the homeless.”
Sentencing will take place within two weeks