Shane Harris with Maria and her sons
Anti-slumlord protesters organized by the San Diego Socialist Campaign and city-council-hopeful Sandra Galindo were back on the streets of City Heights Monday evening (September 21), following through on what they'd planned a month earlier — a march to the front door of a property manager they say is responsible for unsafe living conditions in a local apartment complex.
Channeling Al Sharpton
This time, the group was joined by members of the San Diego chapter of National Action Network, a civil rights activist group formed by Al Sharpton in 1991.
Rev. Shane Harris, local chapter president, spoke with media on behalf of Maria, a single mother of three with limited English skills who stood alongside him for an interview while her boys mugged for the cameras.
"Maria is dealing with a cockroach infestation and other health-code issues," Harris said. "She is dealing with a landlord who clearly has not stood up and done anything to maintain the property. Because of that, Maria has been forced to deal with a host of challenges in living in her house.
"The city is supposed to hold landlords accountable for keeping their properties to code. When you have a situation like this where someone isn't dealt with, it affects their health and safety. It affects their families, and it's not fair," continued Harris. "We want justice for Maria, and we want to see justice for underrepresented populations across the county."
Socialist Council Candidate
Galindo, who spearheaded the earlier rally on behalf of Maria after meeting her while canvassing the neighborhood, also spoke to the media, though her remarks to the assembled crowd of about two dozen were delivered in Spanish and through the assistance of a translator.
"The cockroaches, the spiders are everywhere — they're in the kitchen, in the bedrooms, and nothing is done," stated Galindo. "She pays her rent every month, and yet still these conditions persist."
Maria later displayed a photo (on her mobile phone) of her son's swollen and infected toe — the result, she says, of a spider bite that required hospitalization. The boy, seeing the photo, lifted his shoe up and hopped around on one foot, pointing to the toe that had been bitten.
"We're gonna stand up for our rights — rent control in City Heights!"
To the manager's apartment!
Shortly before 7 p.m., the group marched from the corner of University and Fairmount to an apartment complex on Highland Avenue, shouting slogans including, "We're gonna stand up for our rights — rent control in City Heights!" and "Stop the war on drugs, start the war on bugs!"
Arriving at Maria's property, protesters swarmed into the central courtyard, past a handful of broken appliances, and up the stairs to the manager's unit. When no one answered the door, the group began shouting their demands that the units within the complex be brought up to code (several others alleged their units were in similar condition to Maria's).
A petition, including nearly 100 signatures gathered on Maria's behalf, was left taped to the door of the on-site manager.
”Vamos a regresar,” the group chanted, promising a return if action wasn't taken within two weeks. ”Todos somos Maria!” (“We are all Maria!”)
Afterward, Maria invited media and protesters into her home for a tour. While cluttered, the apartment appeared mostly well kept. Beyond the piles of personal property, however, the unit's condition told another story.
An outlet with exposed wiring near the kitchen sink provided a doorway from which roaches entered and exited the kitchen. Water stains in the ceiling indicated a previous leak that hadn't been completely repaired. A wall-unit air conditioner, covered in peeling paint, was plugged into another outlet with exposed wiring, while plaster chipped off the window frame above. Unpatched cracks in the bathroom sink gave way to spots of rust. Other conditions, varying in their degree of seriousness, presented themselves as the tour continued.
A second attempt to contact the occupant of the supposed manager's unit was also unsuccessful.