On December 10, 2004, tragedy struck downtown Oakland, when a 33-year-old woman who felt brutalized by Oakland's kangaroo courts plunged to her death from the Oakland Tribune Tower. Mary Jesus, a longtime Oakland renter, had a message that she wanted to get out to the public at large, and she was willing to sacrifice her own life to do so.
On that fateful day, Mary Jesus stood high above the crowd down below, and gazed upon hundreds of people gathered on the sidewalks beneath the Tribune Tower, as they shouted out to her not to do it. Local attorney Bob Salinas was one of those in the crowd that tried to save her as he frantically yelled to her not to jump.
A moment before she died in a crushing pool of blood on the sidewalk seven stories below, Mary Jesus responded to the crowd by tossing down hundreds of copies of the suicide note that she wanted everyone to read.
All too often in American society, many people feel they are being pushed over the edge by greedy profiteers and the corrupt legal system that caters to their needs. According to Oakland attorney Matthew Siegal, Mary Jesus was one of those people that had been chewed up and spit out by Oakland's brutal eviction system.
"Mary Jesus had evidence that the appeal process was all screwed up," said Siegal. "The judicial system is biased against tenants and it chewed her up and spit her out. This case was not about rent; it was all about pushing her over the edge."
About 50 people came to an Oakland memorial on January 10 for Mary Jesus. "There were many people there that witnessed the suicide and were looking for closure," Siegal said.
Marion Vale of San Francisco was with Mary Jesus during her last evening on earth, and she states that Mary Jesus had taken her own life to bring attention to those that had forced her over the edge.
The suicide note mentions four names that Mary Jesus wanted exposed. In the suicide note, Mary Jesus starts by writing: "Mark Roemer, James Lewis and Dean Miller. They are the catalyst!" Alameda County Superior Court Judge Yolanda Northridge was the only other name mentioned in the suicide note of Mary Jesus.
As it turned out, Mark F. Roemer and James L. Lewis were the landlords that owned the apartment building where Mary Jesus resided at 1515 Alice Street in Oakland. Dean Miller was the attorney representing the landlords trying to evict her, and Judge Yolanda Northridge had ordered her eviction from the home she had loved for so many years.
In her last act on earth, Mary Jesus had pointed her finger at these four individuals, who in her mind had apparently held the keys of life or death to the world that she had loved and cherished.
On January 20, 2005, I reached Juanita Moore, the court clerk for Judge Yolanda Northridge, to ask how this tragedy could have come about. Both the clerk and the judge declined to comment on what had occurred in their courtroom and how it led to the death of Mary Jesus.
Also on January 20, I contacted Dean Miller at his residence in Piedmont and he confirmed that not only was he the attorney that went after Mary Jesus, but also that James Lewis and Mark Roemer are some longtime high school friends of his from Piedmont High, many years ago.
This trio of friends were the ones that Mary Jesus had named in her suicide note as the "catalyst" that led to her personal tragedy of eviction and suicide.
Mary Jesus had resided for 13 years at the beautiful Dunsmuir Apartments at 1515 Alice Street in downtown Oakland. The 29-unit apartment building, built in 1912, was loaded with beautifully crafted oak trim on the doors and the windows that added a look of elegance and old world charm to the spacious building.
The records show that the Dunsmuir Apartments were bought on January 16, 1998, for $1,320,000 by the landlords of Mary Jesus, listed as the Dunsmuir Apartments Limited Liability CX.
To get to the heart of the message that Mary Jesus had wanted so desperately to give to the public at large, one must first take a look at a press release that she sent out to media outlets on October 27, 2004, less than two months before her death.
Her press release reads as follows:
"This is a newsworthy story that the public would definitely be interested in. The Building I live in, in downtown Oakland, was purchased five years ago. I had already been living here for seven years. I was the manager for a brief period of three years, then fired without cause. They have harassed me consistently since then. Even attempting to evict me in July of 2003, then again in September of 2004. I am very poor, so had to represent myself. It seemed to me that this particular judge (Yolanda Northridge) a Superior Court Judge in the limited jurisdiction, has a tendency to decide against Pro Per litigants. My case NEVER should have gone as far as it went, because the Oakland rental board had already stated that I did not owe the landlords any money. They sought to evict me anyway; the judge allowed their attorney to stifle my evidence. It was all totally illegal!"
The above press release referred to an Oakland rental arbitration board case that Mary Jesus filed against the two owners of the Dunsmuir Apartments, where she was fighting an illegal rent increase. Even though the Oakland rental arbitration board had ruled in her favor as of September 1, 2004, because of an improper notification by the landlord, four weeks later Judge Yolanda Northridge of the Alameda County Superior Court overruled the rent board's decision, and ordered Mary Jesus to pay the landlords $1,018.77 in back rent and to vacate her long-term residence of the past 13 years.
Mary Jesus felt crushed by this cruel, corrupt, heartless system in Oakland, after having done everything possible to defend herself from the rent increase imposed upon her by the greedy landlords.
Any way that one looks at this tragedy, Mary Jesus was overwhelmed by a foursome of professionals wielding great power over her. The four of them were unrelenting in their efforts to run her out of the home she had lived in for 13 years, and the eviction resulted in the violence of her death by pushing her over the edge.
It is no secret that Oakland renters have been up against a brutal eviction-for-profit system for many years. Nor is it a secret that Oakland renters have held several protests these past few years against landlords and judges that act together to evict renters. Indeed, Superior Court Judge Yolanda Northridge is not the only judge in Oakland that has come under the scrutiny of the public during these past few years, nor shall she be the last.
The tragic message of Mary Jesus is a testimony written in blood and death. It cannot escape our attention, nor should it ever be ignored. She sacrificed herself to deliver her last message. The suicide note is her last testimony about a corrupt and brutal system in Oakland controlled by the rich and the powerful. Her suicide note stated:
"Mark Roemer, James Lewis and Dean Miller. They are the catalyst.
"Goodbye cruel world, and all that. Just look up the case, and you'll see why. Just listen to the August 31st 2004 Authenticated recording from rent adjustment. And everyone will say what they always say when something totally preventable wasn't prevented. 'Why didn't anybody do anything.' A couple of people did, but they had no power, and those that did have power were more concerned with technicalities, than justice. Except for Yolanda Northridge, she just does this to people too poor to afford an attorney, and attorneys only take your case if you have money. It's all about money! The love of money is the root of all evil!"
P.S. Just cremate me and I have no family.
Profound impact of her death
The death of Mary Jesus had a profound impact on the deepest levels of my consciousness.
On December 20, 2004, I received a call from a dear friend, Sue Doyle. Sue works for a number of pro-tenant attorneys in Oakland that I happen to know. Sue told me the unfortunate news about the death of Mary Jesus. I felt stunned.
I had not seen Mary Jesus since the day I was wandering up and down Alice Street in Oakland on a warm Saturday afternoon, using a bullhorn to call tenants out of their sleepy apartments to sign a Just Cause (anti-eviction) petition. I was with Sue Doyle and John Reimann at that moment, and we were part of a group known as the Campaign for Renters Rights.
People streamed out of their apartments that day to join us and sign the petitions we had brought with us. Some of the landlords were screaming at us from their buildings and threatening to call the cops if we did not start moving along.
Sue Doyle had briefly met Mary Jesus that sunny afternoon as we were out collecting signatures for an initiative that rewrote Oakland's rent laws, and gave the renters some protections from unfair evictions and the eviction-for-profit system.
Once upon a time, I had resided on Alice Street in a lovely building for about eight years; and I lived directly across the street from Mary Jesus for much of that period. Of course, that was until some greedy landlord bought the property I resided in and immediately evicted me because I had the cheapest rents in the building. My anger at that profiteering evictor knew no bounds. To this day, I still miss the garden that I nourished for so many years in the backyard of the property.
Mary Jesus was a splendid character and was unmistakable in the neighborhood. She generally dressed all in black, with dark shades and long, flowing, dark hair. She seemed rather fierce in her own way. Not the type of person that I would want to get into a feud with.
We got to know one another a bit, and at times we went out for a bite to eat and a chat. At one point, I helped her to plant some new flowers and other plants in front of the building where she resided. She was the resident manager at that time.
In a crazy world that's gone totally mad, Mary Jesus was no crazier than anyone else; and it's a shame that the media pundits insinuated that she was a lunatic who lacked therapy, when they wrote the stories about what had occurred on December 10 at the Tribune Tower.
Neither therapy, nor the leather restraints and Thorazine at John George Psychiatric Pavilion, would have done a thing to keep the profiteers from evicting her from the home she loved, even though she had lived there long enough to be a part owner of the building by now.
Mary Jesus was targeted and the whole weight of the legal system was set in motion to push her over the edge.
Many landlords in Oakland have been cruel enough in their pursuit of profits to make many a soul in Oakland consider suicide as an escape from their greedy grasp. Believe it. I get calls and e-mails from desperate tenants all the time, and at times suicide seems like an option in a world where the rents are so high that people become convinced that they will never come up with the cash needed to move into some other slumlord's rat-infested hellhole.
Her landlords are lucky that Mary Jesus did not do to them what she had done to herself. That would have given the Tribune and the Chronicle something to write about; but that was not what her message was all about. Instead, Mary Jesus took her own life to expose the legal system that exists here in Oakland, and the greedy landlords that use the system to push their renters over the edge.
On October 18, 2004, I received an e-mail from V. Vale of Re/Search Publications, asking for help to stop Mary Jesus's eviction. I immediately responded, and sent off a good-sized list of attorneys' names and phone numbers, including the Eviction Defense Center. I gave instructions for Mary Jesus to take action as soon as possible to stop the eviction and to contact an attorney immediately for assistance.
I was happy to do what little I could to stop the profiteers from dumping her out onto the cold-hearted streets of Oakland. I live for moments like this.
Indeed, when V. Vale contacted me, he had no idea that I actually knew Mary Jesus, and was totally surprised that I knew a few things about her. I sent him a list of attorneys and instructions which he handed over to Mary Jesus. Vale also called some of the attorneys to see if he could line one of them up to help Mary Jesus in her time of need.
It felt good to hear back from Vale, and to receive a thank you for being there to help. I thought that I had done my part to help, and set my mind to other tasks. I did not see, I could not see, the dark future that was looming just ahead.
I cannot get the picture out of my head of Mary Jesus standing there high above the street, just before she plunged to her death. I keep thinking of what she may have been feeling those last few moments and days of her life. I keep wondering how her short life of 33 years finally ended so tragically atop the Tribune Tower.
I wish I could have done more to help keep a roof over her head and preserve her right to remain in her much-loved home.
It was somewhat of a comfort to learn that Mary Jesus spent the last evening of her life with Vale and his wife Marion in San Francisco. These two had tried their best to help her fight the eviction proceedings that ended up pushing her over the edge. They had offered her shelter from the storm when she needed it the most.
I can't help but cry when I think of the last few moments of Mary Jesus, and what she must have been going through as she gazed upon the crowd of 200 onlookers that witnessed her death. I can't help but think about her final hours as she made copies of her suicide note and the message she wanted the people to read.
The message of Mary Jesus is splattered with the blood of her ultimate sacrifice - a sacrifice that ensured her voice would be heard loud and clear.
She is pointing her finger at the landlords, the judges and the legal system that pushed her over the edge. I call for an immediate and thorough investigation into the cases that Mary Jesus refers to in her message to the people.
It will be up to each and every one of us to take the message of Mary Jesus to heart, and to do whatever is necessary to make certain that the injustices that pushed her over the edge will be exposed and held accountable.
May Mary Jesus rest in peace, and may her troubled soul find some happiness in the next dimension of reality, far removed from the greedy landlords and war criminals that have wreaked havoc on the American people and the world at large.
Lynda Carson may be reached at (510) 763-1085 or firstname.lastname@example.org