On January 9, Qilombo members were locked out of the community social center they’ve maintained for over four years. The space—which members have patronized without a lease since 2016— offered neighborhood residents a reading library, educational programs, computer access, meals, a garden next door, and more. It hosted music and arts gatherings as well as countless politically radical events on behalf of those effected by police violence, prisoners, and other marginalized peoples from across the country and around the world.
Landlords attempted to remove Qilombo almost as long as it had been there, with the current corporate landlord refusing to renew their lease since 2016. Qilombo resisted displacement until deputies showed up without warning and padlocked the building on January 9.
When no one was in the building, Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies oversaw the padlocking of security gates on behalf of the property management company, thereby formally evicting Qilombo from the building. Presumably, a representative of the landlord actually placed the new locks.
Hours later, Qilombo member Chaga kwa Nia requested permission to enter the premises from maintenance workers who were inside, so he could gather clothing and other items. He placed them in a bag and left the bag on the sidewalk out front.
When Chaga returned, Oakland police vehicles were in front of the building. As Chaga walked away with his bag, OPD accused him of having broken into the building and handcuffed him. He was later released and not charged with any crimes.
During the time they were there, police entered the space and removed computer equipment, Qilombo members say, but no warrant was shown to those who had arrived after the police. OPD were on the scene for about an hour.
Originally leased and established as The Holdout social center in the Fall of 2011 after having been vacant for years, the storefront on San Pablo Avenue re-opened as Qilombo in April 2014.
In 2015, the previous owner of the long-empty lot next to the building attempted several times to evict farmers and destroy the Africa Town community garden, which was next to Qilombo, but backed down after hundreds of allies showed up to defend the space and city officials intervened on behalf of Qilombo.
Neill Sullivan’s SMC East Bay acquired the building and the adjoining lot used for the garden, then refused to renew Qilombo’s lease in 2016. SMC East Bay, along with Sullivan’s REO Homes, is responsible for numerous evictions and widespread gentrification throughout Oakland, especially in West Oakland. Qilombo has been fighting to hold on to the space ever since, until deputies rushed the building when no one was present and put new locks on the doors.
Next steps for the community social center remain uncertain.
Dave Id is an independent journalist who covers social justice movements.