Pittsburgh: UNDM Marches On Landlord’s Home, Confronts Him Over Demands

By Peter Cherry

On the morning of July 29, nearly 20 protestors consisting of tenants, activists, and community members organized by United Neighborhood Defense Movement (UNDM) marched on the home of slumlord lawyer, James M. Ferguson. Posters with demands were placed on the windshield of Ferguson’s car, stating: “End the harassing of Joshua now! Make all required and necessary repairs! Collect no back rent! Turn on Josh’s water now! Return $2,000 in stolen funds! Drop the eviction!”

After Ferguson refused to come out protestors marched up his driveway to his door, banged on it and demanded he face tenants. The police soon arrived with a Civil Affairs team, telling protestors to return to public property. One tenant named Joshua stayed on the driveway, giving a bold speech: “It’s me, Josh! Come out, James!”

Civil Affairs are a special unit of the police, often not in uniform, that represses rebellion through subtle “soft” tactics. Recognizing the Civil Affairs officer, the tenant confronted him, shaming the officer into a retreat from the event.

Protestors remained in Ferguson’s front yard and chanted: “Black lives matter! Give Josh water!” and “James Ferguson is a slumlord!” One activist’s speech connected the tenants struggle to the ongoing crises: “You are choosing to evict people in a global pandemic, and an economic crisis reaching levels we have not seen since the great depression. Do you know how hard it is for the average working person to find a home right now? Where is Joshua going to go if you put him out? You and all landlords like you are parasites, who wreck everything in their path in the pursuit of profit.”

At the end of the protest, a “Landlord Notice” was posted on Ferguson’s front door, with a contact number so he can reach out to agree to the tenant’s demands or face further action.

A few hours after the event, the landlord went to turn the water back on discreetly, but an activist was present to confront him and record him. Ferguson claimed he hadn’t known the water was turned off until the action at his house. Ferguson told the activist “The judicial system is there for a reason,” to which the activist responded “the judicial system is for you, not for tenants.”

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