Larry Gossett Looks Back on the Legacy of the Four Amigos

With the passing of activist “Uncle” Bob Santos, Gossett is the last surviving member of the powerful civil-rights quartet.

For Larry Gossett, it’s all about working together. With the death of “Uncle” Bob Santos, the 71-year-old King County Council member is the last living member of the Four Amigos, a legendary quartet of non-white activists who spent decades working to make Seattle more just for the little people. Previously departed members include Bernie Whitebear, who helped lead the Native occupation of Fort Lawton that led to the creation of Discovery Park, and Roberto Maestas, co-founder and former executive director of El Centro de la Raza.

We asked Gossett how it feels to be the last Amigo standing, and what an activist of his generation thinks of the current wave of young activism most clearly exemplified by the Black Lives Matter movement.

What do you see as the legacy of the Four Amigos? Our ability to come together as deep-rooted grassroots leaders and activists in the African-American, Latino, Asian, and Native American communities and show people that we can subjugate any idea of the primary interests of any one group for the idea of the whole, the good of the effort we were involved in. Besides political leaders, we were friends. We went to weddings together. We went down to Bush Garden and sang karaoke together. We traveled together. Roberto was the best man at my wedding. We’re at each other’s kids’ birthdays or social occasions. Every January 1st, Roberto and I went to Bob’s annual dinner because he was a superb cook and entertainer.

How does your generation’s activism compare to Black Lives Matter? Favorably. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, we were mobilizing our respective communities to support concrete economic efforts to create jobs in the construction industry for blacks; to support the historic fishing rights of Native Americans; to put pressure on King County, who built the Kingdome and wasn’t putting enough money into sustained, social housing and business growth in the International District.

What I like about the Black Lives Matter movement is that I see Asians, Native Americans, and whites not only supporting Black Lives Matter demonstrations, particularly on the unnecessary killing of black men, but weighing in on other issues by wearing shirts and jerseys that say Black Lives Matter. During the ’60s and ’70s, I don’t remember anybody else wearing Black Power shirts but African Americans. So in some ways they’ve gone a little bit beyond us.

What do you want to see the next generation of activists to accomplish? More radical transformation of the democratic experience in this country. We still have really vast economic inequality. We need fair distribution. Bias around race issues is a problem throughout our country.

Let’s get concrete about what that radical transformation would look like. You’ve been criticized by many in this new generation of activists for supporting the King County Children and Family Justice Center, aka the new youth jail. Partly because of the pressure [from activists], and partly due to what was already a part of the effort going on since 2001, 2002, of supporting alternatives to incarceration in the forms of intervention and retention efforts, the new facility, first of all, is not going to cost any more than the one that was built in 1952 did, $40 million. And it’s going to have a hundred fewer beds, and one-third of the units that are built are going to be convertible for expanding intervention and prevention programming, like therapeutic drug counseling, multifacet family therapy, [and] domestic-violence classes. [Note: The total facility will cost $210 million. The portion dedicated to jailing youth is $40 million.]

Because of those three things, I don’t think you can say, “They’re building a new jail, and they’re gonna put our people in it and we don’t need to build a new jail, we can just keep the old one.” … One-fifth of a building being used for detention, another four-fifths for therapeutic and courtrooms and probation officers and family workers and judges, is not the evil that the opponents are projecting.

What do you think of the larger goal of eliminating or radically reducing incarceration? Who could disagree with that? Well, there are people that disagree with that. I have colleagues that disagree with that. I think that that is an admirable goal and it’s one we should keep working on. I don’t know when a day will come that we won’t have any jails for adults or youth, but a lot of societal changes would have to be made before that will occur. I agree with the overall goals of reducing the number of jails in this country, and in this region. [However,] this particular jail—this particular building, excuse me—is going to help continue the downward trend of the number of youth that are incarcerated in Seattle.

cjaywork@seattleweekly.com

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Correction: This story has been edited to correct the spelling of Roberto Maestas’ last name, and correct the identity of the organization he founded, El Centro de la Raza. We regret the errors.

More in News & Comment

Protestors gather at SeaTac’s Families Belong Together rally. Photo by Alex Garland
Seattle’s Separated Children

A local non-profit houses several immigrant youths who were separated from their parents at the border. But for how long?

Katrina Johnson, Charleena Lyles’ cousin, speaks at a press conference for De-Escalate Washington’s I-940 on July 6, 2017. Photo by Sara Bernard
Communities of Color Respond to Police Chief Best’s Nomination

Although its a mixed bag for some, the families affected by police shootings say she’s the best one for the job.

While King County Metro has been testing out several trial electric buses since since 2016, the agency aims to have a fully electric bus fleet by 2040. Photo by SounderBruce/Flickr
King County Rolls on With Its Electric Bus Fleet Plans

With an overhaul set by 2040, a new report shows the economic and health benefits of going electric.

Nikkita Oliver speaks at a July 17 No New Youth Jail press conference in front of the construction site of the King County Youth Detention Center. Photo by Josh Kelety
King County Youth Detention Center Moves Forward Despite Opposition

As community criticism of the project mounts, King County tries to take a middle road.

Trouble in Tacoma

A cannabis producer has been shut down for “numerous and substantial violations.”

Between Seattle’s $15 minimum wage and the new no-poach cause agreement, Washington has been leading the nation in advancing fast food workers’ rights. Photo by Fibonacci Blue/Flickr
Washington AG’s Deal Grants Mobility to Fast Food Workers Nationwide

Seven fast food chains have agreed to end no-poaching policies that economists say cause wage stagnation.

The Carlton Complex wildfire burned in north-central Washington state in 2014. Photo by Jason Kriess/Wikimedia Commons
King County Burn Ban Starts This Weekend

Other counties across the state have already enacted similar restrictions.

Numerous complaints against King County Sheriff’s deputies for issues like excessive force and improper search and seizure weren’t investigated due to internal misclassification, a new report says. Photo by Oran Viriyincy/Flickr
Report Finds Complaints Against King County Sheriff’s Deputies Weren’t Investigated

An outside review says that allegations of excessive force and racially-biased policing weren’t pursued.

Most Read