Protests Against Umoja Eviction Continue

Protesters vow a Black Lives Matter march in the Central District on Saturday.

Protesters against the eviction of Omari Tahir-Garrett from the Umoja PEACE Center in the Central District today announced a march for black lives this coming Saturday, at 5 p.m. at Union and 23rd Ave. “This is larger than just Umoja,” said Cliff Cawthon, organizer with Seattle Against Foreclosure and Eviction (SAFE). He stood in front of the borded-up Umoja Center, two police officers keeping watch beside it. “This is about the entirety of the Central District.”

Rashad Barber, a Seattle Black Lives Matter organizer who was also present, added, “This is a fight that we can’t let go of yet. This is not done.” He referred to the Black Dot, a black entrepreneurial center on the same block which is also facing threat of eviction.

As we reported yesterday, the Umoja PEACE Center has been evicted at the order of the property owners. The eight year old Center is a pillar of black culture in the Central District, Seattle’s historically black neighborhood. In recent years, the Central District has rapidly gentrified as rising Seattle property values incentivize development across the city.

The Umoja Center is one block south of Uncle Ike’s pot shop, which has previously been targeted by anti-gentrification protests. As lifelong Central District resident and Seattle University administrator Tyrone Brown told us last year,“In some ways [the corner of 23rd and Union is] also a place of a lot of trauma for black people. You could pick the southeast corner and you know that Aaron Roberts was shot there.” (Roberts was a black man shot to death by Seattle police under suspicious circumstances in 2001.)

UPDATE. A high schooler was arrested last night by Seattle police during the protest outside the Umoja Center in some kind of physical altercation with the police. According to an online fundraiser for her bail, she “was attacked by police and arrested protecting the Umojafest peace center, she is now the third highschool student of color to be targeted by the Seattle police department in recent protests, and the second trans-student of color.”

This afternoon, about forty supporters appeared outside the King County Detention Center, where they wrote letters to the arrested high schooler on heart-shaped pieces of construction paper. Landlord and activist John Bito says he paid the court in the detention center $1,000 cash for the high schooler’s bail, on the understanding that he’ll be reimbursed with money from the online fundraiser. Bito says he found out about the high schooler’s plight via an alert from the Seattle Neighborhood Action Coalition’s rapid response network, of which he is a member. The high schooler will likely be released by the end of the day.

“I came because somebody was trying to defend a person from an illegal act of the police and was arrested,” he says, “so I just wanted to get her out of jail.”

Another person was also arrested by police yesterday afternoon for blocking a vehicle, but was released shortly thereafter.

cjaywork@seattleweekly.com

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