Fatal Eviction

During a forcible eviction from an apartment in Pennsylvania, a police officer fatally shot a 12-year-old girl. As reported on the news website PennLive.com on Wednesday, Ciara Meyer was the victim of a confrontation between her father and the police who were on the scene to serve an eviction notice. Officer Clark Steele, 46, knocked on the Meyers’ apartment door Monday morning in Duncannon, approximately six miles northwest of Harrisburg. According to police spokesman Rob Hicks, 57-year-old Donald Meyer opened the door with a shouldered hunting rifle. After a brief dispute concerning the eviction notice, Meyer pointed the rifle at Steele’s chest, whereupon Steele drew his service weapon and shot Meyer in the left upper arm. The bullet passed through his arm and fatally struck Ciara, who was standing behind him. Apartment building employees present to assist in the eviction witnessed the incident.

The girl’s father was arrested and has been charged with simple and aggravated assault, grossly negligent endangerment of a third party and also making “terrorist threats.” Perry County District Attorney Andrew Bender wouldn’t tell PennLive.com whether charges would also be brought against Officer Steele because the investigation was still ongoing. Also left unanswered were questions as to whether police use of a weapon was a proportional response.

Meyer and his wife owed their landlord $1,780.85 for rent and utilities. When they didn’t respond to dunning letters, the landlord sought [to procure an] eviction through the courts. In Pennsylvania, tenants have 10 days to pay their arrears, after which time they can be evicted.

During the past few years, communities and social organizations in the United States have repeatedly cited the increasing number of evictions. In October 2014, CNN reported that “in cities across the United States, millions of people will be kicked out of their homes this year. Some can’t afford their soaring rent, others are getting evicted over minor violations by landlords eager to get higher paying tenants in place.” According to government statistics, rents increased an average of 7 percent in 2014, while incomes rose only 1.8 percent during the same period. An average family now spends 30 percent of its income on rent alone. Any major financial emergency or unforeseen expense is enough to put tenants into arrears to the landlord. And the eviction notice follows shortly afterward.

The legal consultation site Neighborhood Law Clinic, offered by the University of Wisconsin’s law faculty, warns that millions of families nationwide are under threat of eviction. In Germany, the number of forcible evictions has increased annually during the last decade and stands presently at around 28,000 per year. In the southern U.S. state of Georgia with its predominantly black population, one out of every five is threatened. In the majority of cases, those affected are no longer able to keep up with constantly increasing rents. In sunny San Francisco, the arrival of thousands of highly paid information technology personnel has resulted in the conversion of apartments into condominiums. Housing authorities documented 2,100 unjustified conversions in the city for 2014, an increase of 45 percent in three years. More than 5,000 evictions were required to do so.

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