By JOHN LESLIE
On March 29, a 35-year-old Philadelphia woman, Angel Davis, was shot in the head by an as yet unidentified “landlord-tenant” officer. The shooting took place during an eviction from the victim’s home at the Girard Court Apartment Complex in the city’s Sharswood section. At this time, the victim is listed in critical condition.
Landlord-tenant officers, despite the title, are not sworn law enforcement officers. Rather, they are private contractors dressed in plain clothes, who are hired by the court system to carry out evictions. Some of these private goons are retired police officers.
Davis’ neighbor, Jennifer Rivera, told FOX 29 that she heard gunshots and later saw Davis being carried out of the building: “It’s sad. It breaks my heart. I didn’t know her like that but she’s a human being. … She didn’t deserve that. No one does.”
Davis’ husband, Gabriel Plummer, described the attack to the media. “He was trying to push the door open,” Plummer said. “We’re pushing it closed. Because you’re not coming in here. We don’t know what’s going on.” Plummer told NBC 10 that the officer then opened fire. “I seen when he drawed up and he—just like this—baow! He shot her. Just like that. Boom.”
Philadelphia police are currently investigating. The shooter has not been charged. It does not appear that any police officers were on the scene at the time of the shooting. Philadelphia police procedures state that a writ server or landlord-tenant officer may request a police presence, but the request must be approved by a supervisor, and police are instructed to only observe unless a law is broken.
The Philadelphia Tenants’ Union released a statement: “The Philly Tenants Union is appalled by the news a woman was shot in the head by a Deputy Landlord Tenant Officer earlier today. Philly renters have enough to worry about paying rent and the additional violence of getting thrown out onto the street and fearing for our lives from an independent contractor paid by landlords is horrendous! Such Landlord Tenant Officers and the person that helped to arrange this eviction, attorney Maria Shuter, act like mercenaries, and we as concerned community members and housing rights activists demand accountability and that such practices end immediately! This use of deadly force by an officer of the Landlord Tenant Office simply shows in more stark, graphic ways how evictions are indeed acts of violence and threaten our lives on a daily basis. No one should have to live in fear of a violent eviction.”
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Unlike other jurisdictions, Philadelphia courts rely on a private attorney, appointed by Municipal Court’s president judge and known as a landlord tenant officer, to execute evictions. This attorney deputizes private security contractors to perform onsite lockouts in exchange for the right to collect millions in related eviction fees.”
Landlord-Tenant officers are hired and supervised by attorney Marisa Shuter, who was appointed to oversee eviction proceedings by the Municipal Court leadership. According to WHYY, Shuter “is the daughter of a former Municipal Court president judge and is married to Judge David C. Shuter. The latter has occasionally presided over eviction cases, resulting in his wife’s office collecting related fees when he ruled in landlords’ favor.”
In other Pennsylvania counties, evictions are handled by elected constables, while in contrast, Philadelphia evictions are carried out by a private for-profit firm, including the final notification and the eviction itself in a process that is not transparent and with no public records.
A statement from Community Legal Services says, “The majority of Philadelphians facing eviction are Black and Brown people, who are frequently viewed as threats in their own home, when private citizens operating as officers show up with little to no notice to evict them. … To make matters worse, Philadelphia has a ‘pay to play’ system where poorly trained landlord tenant officers are financially incentivized to perform evictions.”
All of this takes place in the context of an uptick in evictions in Philadelphia ,which disproportionately affects poor, Black neighborhoods. With little in the way of financial assistance, rising rents, gentrification sweeping working-class neighborhoods, and the termination of the COVID moratorium on evictions, thousands more evictions are expected. During the COVID crisis, many tenants fell further behind in rent. Before the pandemic, the average amount owed at the time of an eviction filing was about $2000. Now, the average is more than $4500. Some tenants owe more than $10,000.
Court records show that evictions are quite common at the Girard Court apartments. At least 20 cases took place last year; this year has seen three so far.
Philadelphia has the fourth largest number of evictions among U.S. cities. About 20,000 eviction notices are filed with the court every year and result in more than 5000 lock-outs of tenants. Evictions increase the danger of the loss of personal property and homelessness.
Philadelphia also has the second highest child poverty rate of any large U.S. city. According to a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, “About 400,000 residents—including roughly 37 percent of the city’s children under the age of 18—live below the federal poverty line, which is $19,337 in annual income for an adult living with two children. And nearly half of all poor residents are in deep poverty, defined as 50 percent below the federal poverty line.”
High poverty rates in Philadelphia are disproportionately concentrated in Black and Latino communities. In some neighborhoods—Fairhill, 71 years, and Strawberry Mansion, 68 years—life expectancy is lower than for someone born in Iraq or Syria, which are both more than 74 years. In contrast, life expectancy in wealthier neighborhoods like Society Hill and Old City is 88 years.
The use of these private, for-profit goon squads for evictions must be halted immediately. The trigger-happy “landlord-tenant” officer responsible for this shooting should be prosecuted, and the corrupt practices of the city courts must be investigated. There must also be a complete moratorium on evictions and economic aid to the poorest neighborhoods to repair and weatherize existing homes. Gentrification of neighborhoods must cease, and public housing should be built to increase the amount of affordable homes.
A socialist society would immediately move to make sure that all human needs are met; housing, education, and health care are human rights. The socialist reconstruction of society would require a massive public works program paying top union wages to rebuild our cities and infrastructure. A socialist government would immediately cease all evictions and nationalize all rental properties in order to assure that all the people have a roof over their heads. Additionally, the energy and transportation industries would have to be nationalized under democratic workers’ control in order to achieve a transition to sustainable energy.
Photo: Angel Davis