Several dozen protesters rallied Wednesday outside the Umojafest Peace Center as the long-time Central District icon was boarded up by contractors for the landlord under the protection of Seattle police. Chanting “This is what gentrification looks like” and “This is what they did to the Duwamish,” the protesters watched as workers smashed windows and screwed slabs of wood over the windows. One man was arrested after blocking a vehicle, according to Seattle police, and Capitol Hill Seattle reports that there were a “series of tussles” between police and protesters in the mid-afternoon.
Wednesday morning, the county Sheriff’s office served an eviction notice to Omari Tahir-Garrett, the longtime operator of the Umoja PEACE Center in the Central District. The center is an symbol of pre-gentrification Central District, Seattle’s historically black neighborhood. According to Cpt. Paul McDonagh, East Precinct commander, the property owner—the Bangasser family—requested police come to “keep the peace” when protesters arrived.
“People are trying to express their First Amendment, which we completely support, but the owner wanted to access his property,” said McDonagh. “We have to balance the two.”
Kamaria Daniel, a Central District resident and one of the protest’s evident leaders, compared the eviction to Standing Rock and other instances of wealth displacing community. “Right now, we have a bunch of bodies trying to do what we can and be seen,” she said, referring to protesters, “just to prevent any further action.”
“This is the first step to making change,” she told the dozens of protesters around her. “We are here, we are seen, we will be strong.”
Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant asked Mayor Ed Murray and county Sheriff John Urquhart to stop the eviction. “The Sheriff’s Department and the City of Seattle are aiding the interests of corporate developers even though there is no legal obligation to carry out an eviction today…Please join me alongside our sisters and brothers who are fighting to keep the Central District a living and breathing black cultural center, and to make Seattle an affordable and livable city for all.”
— Kshama Sawant (@cmkshama) March 15, 2017
Many protesters helped move some of Tahir-Garrett’s property—boxes of books, for instance—piled by the sidewalk in front of the center to two nearby garages for temporary storage out of the rain.