About a hundred people marched through the Central District Saturday night in a continuation of protests against the eviction of the Umoja PEACE Center and the more general gentrification of Seattle’s historically black neighborhood. The march stopped at an apparently empty house organizers said belongs to the owners of the Umoja Center property, and ended in a scuffle with Uncle Ike’s owner Ian Eisenberg outside his shop at 23rd and Union.
The march followed days of protest against the eviction of Omari Tahir-Garrett from the Umoja PEACE Center in the Central District, where he has lived as a caretaker for the property owners, the Bangasser family, for eight years. On Thursday, at a protest outside the Umoja Center, the elderly Tahir-Garrett vomited and went to the hospital in a stretcher.
Saturday’s march began with an hour and a half of bullhorn speeches at Union at 23rd, in front of the Black Dot, a black entreprenerial center facing displacement, before hiking a hilly mile with an escort of bicycle police to a brick house with a waterfront view in Madrona that Cliff Cawthorn, an organizer with Seattle Against Foreclosure and Eviction (SAFE), and other march leaders said was the home of Hugh Bangasser, part-owner of the Umoja Center property. The Bangassers have owned the property for a long time, but until two years ago the property was under the direct managment of Tom Bangasser, who originally hired Tahir-Garrett as caretaker and who says he planned to eventually sell the property to a local community group for fair market value. In 2015, Tom Bangasser’s siblings voted to remove him as controlling member of the property company, according to CHS, and have since moved to sell the property to a private developer. Hence the eviction of Tahir-Garrett, the closure of the Umoja Center, and the current round of anti-gentrification protests.
But the march perked up when leaders spontaneously decided to detour into the parking lot of Uncle Ike’s pot shop, owned by Central District businessman Ian Eisenberg, at 23rd and Union. Partly because of the store’s gaudy signage and partly because of the traumatic history of that particular intesection, Eisenberg—who grew up in Madrona, according to The Seattle Times—has found himself framed by many Black Lives Matter organizers as the perfect symbol of gentrification by wealthy, white developers.
In the parking lot, marchers huddled and gave bullhorn speeches about racism while the bicycle police escort stood between them and the entrance to Ike’s. Eventually, Eisenberg showed up, hurriedly parking on the street before jogging over to the person who was speaking and telling the crowd to leave. Video published on CHS shows that Eisenberg slowed to a walk as he got close to the speaker; Cawthorn stepped between Eisenberg and the speaker, and several crowd members and Ike’s security guards jumped up into a spontaneous scuffle. At one point a security guard picked up a large metal sign as though to use it as a weapon, but put it down almost immediately. Within a minute, the police escort moved in to seperate the crowd from Eisenberg and security. There were no arrests or apparent injuries.
One march leader took that opportunity to address the security guard who’d briefly picked up the sign, and who is black. “I hope everyone has cameras on this black dude, working for his white master paying him a dollar,” he said into a bullhorn, before accusing the guard of intimidating Tahir-Garrett on Eisenberg’s orders. “I think it’s the same black dude, so I hope we got cameras. This is to you, Mr. Brother, this Uncle Tom working for your white master. Sambo, Sambo—let’s talk about it. The week after we shut down Uncle Ike’s, Ian Eisenberg sent a black thug over to threaten Omari.” The speaker quickly corrected himself for using the racially loaded term “thug”: “I’m going to change that language. This Uncle Tom over here, working for his white master.”
The speaker proceeded to threaten the guard: “We know where the fuck you are. We can find your address. We can find your people. So you be careful when you come after us! You be careful.”
Video of the scuffle and of a security guard speaking with a marcher beforehand have been removed from this post at the request of the guard.