Carrying signs that read "Stop Harassment" and "We Want Respect," about two dozen Section 8 recipients took part in the protest. Members of Antioch's United Citizens for Better Neighborhoods gathered for a counterdemonstration, protesting eyesore properties and nightmarish neighbors.
"This turnout validates that the voice of the people needs to be heard," organizer Darnell Turner said. "The fact the opposition also showed up in large numbers shows they don't care to hear an opposing viewpoint. Section 8, until now, has been voiceless and under-represented."
Section 8, a federally subsidized housing program that helps low-income families rent private homes, has become an issue of growing concern in Antioch during the past year. Residents and city officials have complained of program abuse and mismanagement.
Gary Gilbert, founder of UCBN, said he had no problem with Section 8 residents voicing their concerns.
"We're pleased they're getting an opportunity to say what's on their mind," he said. "We're not trying to create a conspiracy or a cover-up -- we simply want the abuse and fraud in the Section 8 program to stop."
Section 8 residents present Tuesday night said they are being harassed by the police department's Community Action Team. Formed in July 2006, the team investigates
"This is a fight against discrimination," said former Section 8 recipient Tammy Wess. "It's about living in peace. This is isn't about race, it's about class. The Community Action Team doesn't like us because we're low income."
Antioch police Chief Jim Hyde said the issue at hand is neither racial nor economic.
"No one's contesting their limited economic resources," he said. "This is a behavioral problem, but it's not all Section 8 homes. The majority of Section 8 homes in this city pose no problem."
There are approximately 1,500 Section 8 homes in Antioch, Hyde said. Since its inception, the Community Action Team has investigated 158 residential properties -- 104 of which were Section 8 homes. Hyde said only 7.6 percent of the Section 8 properties in the city are causing problems.
Roger Henry, president of the East County NAACP, said the vitriolic back-and-fourth on the issue needs to stop.
"We find ourselves dealing with allegations of racism and police brutality," he said. "We need to calm down the rhetoric so we can discuss the issue without mean-spirited comments. ... Neighbors should not assume that just because someone has a Section 8 voucher that they will become problem tenants."
Public Advocates and Bay Area Legal Aid are looking into claims that the Community Action Team is harassing Section 8 residents in a "concerted campaign" to drive them out of Antioch, representatives from both groups said.
Police logs reviewed last week by the Times show the group responding to issues reported by neighbors, landlords and the Contra Costa Housing Authority.
Many complaints read the same, dealing with loud parties, unruly juveniles, fights -- some involving weapons -- and piled-up trash. In one instance, police were summoned to a house after a man fired several rounds in his backyard from a semiautomatic rifle.
Simon Read covers Antioch. Reach him at 925-779-7166 or email@example.com.
See a video of the march: http://www.bayareanewsgroup.com/multimedia/cct/multimedia/2007/video/march_0925/video.flv