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A loving farewell to Iris Canada, 100 years of Black herstory killed by capitalism

March 29, 2017

When will we charge the real criminals?

by Tiny, Lisa Gray-Garcia

Knives are sharpened into paper called leases
with blades that cut children and elders into pieces.
Murderers called landlords get away with this violence
and no witnesses ever see it.
While our mamas die, everyone stays silent.
– From Lola McKay to Iris Canada and others killed by eviction, from Ron Likkers to Elaine Turner

A system that separates and then annihilates
was built on hate and winds paper trails around your neck so tight
you barely have energy to think, much less fight.
– From “Poison Paper Trails” by Tiny

Welcome to the home of Iris Canada, her home for 60 years, and let her show you her history in books upon books of family photos and tell you about the once bustling Black community she refused to leave … until she was killed by eviction. – Photo: Josh Edelson, Guardian

“I was born in 1916,” Iris whispered into the camera in her last hours of life. “Peter, I can’t believe you did me like this.” Her eyes were pools of sacred time. Sacred, like a prayer. Sacred like things you hold lightly to protect and lift up into the moonlight and dream about and kneel to. Not evict and harass and drag to court and intrude and disrespect and eventually kill.

Iris Canada joined the ancestors on Monday, March 27, one month after being evicted. Iris was murdered by the people and the systems that rule this stolen land. Iris was killed by landlord Peter Owens and the sheriff and the DA and the mayor and the judge and everyone who protects them.

How do you honor your elders in a land ruled by cultures that desecrate their elders and everyone who came before them? How do you hold, love and learn from your generations when the people who crafted your world intentionally stand on and dismantle the generations, the herstory that proceeded you?

Iris Canada joined the ancestors on Monday, March 27, one month after being evicted. Iris was murdered by the people and the systems that rule this stolen land.

“Why did you evict a 100-year-old woman in Black History Month?” One month ago, a small crowd of people, who actually cared about a 100-year-old Black woman living, stood, mouths agape, in front of the San Francisco County sheriff on the day she changed Iris’s locks while Iris was at her day program.

From the sheriff to the real estate snake to the developer, to the TIC tenants, all white, who’d moved into a Black building in a Black hood – gentrifiers! – “neighbors” to the judge who granted the final eviction, to the district attorney who refused to charge the landlord with elder abuse, to the mayor who welcomes in the Peter Owenses of the world, we all live in a society that is built to evict Iris Canada and honor criminals like Peter Owens.

Eviction is elder and child abuse

The handsome old Victorians in Iris’s neighborhood, recently restored by their rich white buyers, for decades housed Black families. Nearly all were pushed out by gentrification, but Iris refused to go. Every nook and cranny of her apartment – Apartment 1 at 670 Page St. – filled with family artwork, pictures and mementos, she was planted here and refused to uproot herself. Peter Owens may have bought her building, but he didn’t own her soul.

In 2014 POOR Magazine went to the District Attorney’s Office to press charges against the scamlords who were evicting literally hundreds of elders and families out of San Francisco per week. POOR family presented original research that Penal Code 368 could be used to convict the criminals who enable, cause and allow the financial and physical abuse of eviction against vulnerable, dependent populations.

The violent story of Iris Canada had not even surfaced yet. At the time, the district attorney told us we didn’t have enough evidence. That the death and resultant illness caused by evictions of elders who had lived in their homes for literally generations only to be thrown out wasn’t enough. That wasn’t a crime, said the DA. Poor people of color living on the street trying to stay dry and warm was a crime, Luis Gongora Pat bouncing a ball was a crime, Mario Woods walking was a crime, but evicting 60-, 70-, 80- and 90-year-olds was not a crime.

Fast forward to 2016, a small contingent of us went back to the District Attorney’s Office to press the charges of elder abuse already filed by Iris Merriouns, Iris Canada’s grandniece and namesake. We were confident something should happen. We had a live victim, Iris Canada, and she and her niece were willing to testify.

Peter Owens was guilty as charged of the crime of financial and physical abuse of a 100-year-old frail elder. But instead of a claim or an attorney, we were met by a line of armed guards of the state. We were told to leave the DA’s office and escorted out, with not so much as a piece of paper or an appointment.

Appeal after appeal was filed by Iris’s attorney and the advocates at Housing Rights Committee, Just Cause, Senior Disability Action, POOR Magazine and many more organizations who continued to hold vigils and actions and press conferences and pleas and make calls and march and write letters.

But the sickness of capitalism and blood stained dollar hoarding is a contagious drug, and everyone seems to drink gallons and gallons of its sick-sweet kool-aid, even when it includes just a touch of cyanide. Normalizing the poison, living with the disease. Even when it kills 100 years of Black women’s history.

Peter Owens was guilty as charged of the crime of financial and physical abuse of a 100-year-old frail elder. But instead of a claim or an attorney, we were met by a line of armed guards of the state.

And if this poison isn’t enough, the poison and sickly sweet kool-aid of hypocrisy should make you gag. Peter Owens was forced to resign from his job as head of the Burlington, Vermont, Community and Economic Development Office, which was founded by Bernie Sanders when he was mayor to help poor neighborhoods thrive and resist gentrification, when news of Owens’s eviction of Iris Canada sparked a scandal in Vermont. What hypocrisy to get paid to fight to protect Burlington, Vermont, from exactly the kind of predatory developer he’s proved to be in San Francisco.

Our Mother, Grandmama, Great-Grandmama, Auntie and Tia Iris has been killed by capitalism. When will we start convicting the real murderers?

Tiny – or Lisa Gray-Garcia – is co-founder with her Mama Dee and co-editor of POOR Magazine and its many projects and author of “Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America,” published by City Lights. She can be reached at deeandtiny@poormagazine.org. Visit POOR at www.poormagazine.org.

You killed Iris Canada

by Tony Robles

For two long years, San Franciscans who care pressured the powers that be in every way they knew how to prevent the eviction of Iris Canada, protesting sometimes daily. Here, last June 27, just before she turned 100, at a protest in front of her home, Iris sits in a wheelchair backed by a banner blaring “Eviction = Death.” Tragically, she proved it true. – Photo: Tony Robles

You killed Iris Canada. You poisoned the trees that greeted her in the morning with your toxic real estate speculator cloud. You killed her with your smile in court, pretending to care about her, treating her like a child saying, “We want what’s best for you.”

You killed her by filing that Ellis Act eviction and thinking she’d let you roll over her. You killed her when you thought she couldn’t see through what you were doing.

You killed Iris with your stares and glances from both near and far, as if she were a flea on a dog. You killed Iris with your photo-op in front of the courthouse while the sheriffs looked on.

You killed Iris Canada.

You killed Iris from afar in your safe hometowns with absences of color and your many choices while those choices are subsidized by the rest of us. You killed Iris when you were asked to lift a finger to help but were held down by paperweights.

You killed Iris with the gavel and the procedure and the fast, slick words and your lack of tact. You killed Iris without a gun, you didn’t need one – your indifference was enough.

You killed Iris when you desecrated her home with your eyes, preying on her walls, her floors, her windows, blocking out the sun, choking the life from her slowly. You killed Iris when you came here and you continue to kill the community by staying. You killed Iris with your badge, mistaking it for the sun. You killed Iris with strokes of the pen, stroke after stroke, until all that was left were strokes that you claim no responsibility for.

You killed Iris Canada with your greed, your lack of tact, lack of grace. Yes, San Francisco, your judges, your politicians, your lawyers, your real estate speculators killed 100-year-old Iris Canada. You killed Iris and you are killing our elders. A job well done because that is what the city does – kills its seniors – with fear and indifference and evictions.

You killed Iris Canada and you are glad she’s finally gone – another remnant of the Black community, living in a unit that is too valuable for her to occupy, whose possessions collected over a lifetime are being stored somewhere – to be disclosed at a future time. You killed Iris Canada, one less elder to remind us of our obligations to our community, our obligations to each other, because there are no obligations.

One hundred years old? Too bad. You killed Iris Canada – Peter Owens, Carolyn Radische, Stephen Owens, Judge Robertson, Andrew Zacks, Vicki Hennessy, the neighbors at 670 Page St. who went out of their way to make Iris’s last days as uncomfortable as possible.

You killed Iris Canada and you are glad she’s finally gone – another remnant of the Black community, living in a unit that is too valuable for her to occupy.

And to the elected officials who did nothing to help – you killed Iris. I hope you are happy now. Damn you all to hell.

Tony Robles is a housing rights advocate, poet and author of two children’s books and of “Cool Don’t Live Here No More: A Letter to San Francisco,” published in 2015, which former San Francisco poet laureate Jack Hirschman calls “the generational memory of San Francisco.” Tony can be reached at tonyrobles1964@hotmail.com.

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5 thoughts on “A loving farewell to Iris Canada, 100 years of Black herstory killed by capitalism

  1. Anativepoet!

    I wish I had known Ms. Iris Canada as I am the shadow of her circumstances. San Francisco, the city of second chances and concern for the disenfranchised sold itself as though it lined the Tenderloin. It's that city unless you are a heavily lined pocket landlord with connections with the housing authority, department of building inspection, the rent board and the mayor's office. I'm not sure who coined the phrase that everyone has a "price", but Ms. Canada, like you, I am learning the hard way that the phrase rings true. Some people will sell their children's souls for something that can do nothing but deteriorate in the casket with them when Lucifer calls them home. And like everything in the devil's lair, the money also turns itself to dust, not a fertile dirt, but instead dust that acts like a parasite on the lungs of an asthmatic!

    RIP Ms. Canada.

    Reply
  2. Ruth Sherman

    And these same abuses are happening all over the USA… Dallas, Texas is notorious for it… and we become homeless and are treated like criminals where-ever we go.

    Reply
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