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Violent Evictions and the Anarchists of Reddit

An eviction in Auburn, a city south of Seattle, turned deadly the other week. Six deputies with the King County Sheriff’s SWAT team approached an apartment home to “serve a high-risk civil eviction order” and were shot at, according to video. It appears that deputies returned fire in self-defense, killing the shooter inside the home.

The circumstances surrounding this dangerous eviction are unknown for now, but the event brings to mind another eviction-turned-violent that occurred in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle last spring. In this case, a tenant named “Eucytus” fired at deputies while barricaded in the apartment and then died by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Seattle detective David Easterly was critically injured by a gunshot wound during the incident.

In a statement that feels grossly oversimplified, Housing Justice Project Attorney Edmund Witter said of the barricade-suicide-eviction, “Evictions for nonpayment of rent are preventable with more support and the right programs.” Clearly, deadly violence is not a normal or justifiable response to being evicted, and it’s hard to imagine what “right programs” could have mitigated such violence. At the time, news coverage seemed unwilling to discuss the role that severe mental anguish and illness may have played.

“Eucytus” was a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and the organization released a statement following “Eucytus’s” suicide that highlighted the “inherently violent and traumatic process of deputies forcibly evicting a person from their home” as a “key factor.” The statement decried evictions for “inevitably lead[ing] to desperation and homelessness,” and blamed the “violent character of our capitalist housing system, which prioritizes the profits of landlords over the human right to housing.”

The “r/Anarchism” subreddit, representing a community of anarchists with 267,000 members, featured a post with the statement “eviction is murder, remember Eucy.” A comment in response stated “landlords are parasites.” This spring, a year after the incident, a journalist of the progressive Seattle newspaper, The Stranger, invited her audience to a “take back your power noise protest and memorial” to “remember Eucy.”

Without more information, we don’t know if there are any parallels between the Auburn and Ballard eviction cases. But both involved shots fired by a person in the residence and the subsequent death of that person. Both also stirred up considerable public sentiment. The prevalent version of that sentiment, reflected by the DSA and the Anarchists of Reddit statements, avoids mentioning facts that could place responsibility for tragic outcomes on the tenants themselves.

“To get killed over an eviction? That’s just outrageous,” a worker near the Auburn shooting told reporters. Well yes, it would be outrageous for a tenant to be killed over an eviction – unless, of course, the tenant initiated gunfire at law enforcement. In that case, the tenant’s death would better be described as a tragic loss of life rather than outrageous.

The pervasive public viewpoint is quick to blame structures, systems, and powers, and yet seems paralyzed when it comes to placing any responsibility on an individual who perpetrated violence. This is because personal responsibility and victimhood are in opposition – How can you be a victim of something you caused? The pervasive response is clear evidence that a victim-oppressor framework dominates the perception that tenants are victims in relation to landlords. And not just in relation to landlords, but the housing market and even capitalism itself, all of which are seen to represent powers, structures, and systems of oppression.

But as obvious as it is to the common observer that tenant-initiated violence warrants a proportional response, it is just as obvious to the common observer that tenants are not always victims nor landlords always oppressors. In fact, both tenants and landlords, by virtue of being human, have the capacity for greed and harm as they do for fairness and benevolence. This understanding of human nature is a commonsense view as old as time. Tragic eviction cases give us an opportunity to remember this fact and advocate for just policy that reflects it.

Caitlyn McKenney

Program Coordinator, Center on Wealth and Poverty
Caitlyn (Axe) McKenney is program coordinator for Discovery Institute’s Center on Wealth & Poverty. Her work has centered on government fiscal accountability, political rhetoric, and addiction with a focus on human dignity ethics. Caitlyn is a graduate of the University of Washington, has interned for a political advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., and has participated in the Vita Institute at the University of Notre Dame. She is published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, has contributed at the Federalist, and has made local and national media appearances.