This past weekend, Saturday March 4, 2017, the Black Liberation Front hosted a Black Lives Matter March for Freedom through Seattle. Protesters chanted, “Keep the CD Black” and “Hey Hey Ho Ho, Gentrifying has got to go”. There was a strong police presence at the demonstration, officers biked along side and blocked off streets in both directions as we passed through each block of the CD. The march began at Seattle Central College and snaked through the city for hours, finally ending at Uncle Ike’s dispensary with a few significant steps on the way. We shouted “No More Youth Jail” and we walked past Alder, a few blocks down from King County’s current Juvenile Detention Center. Hundreds of people attended, the mass of the crowd could be seen best when we gathered at intersections. Like, on Cherry and 12th ave protestors kneeled around a circle of organizers chanting, “Black Lives Matter”. The crowd was so deep protesters blocked the entire intersection, surrounding the area around Sunco gas station on the corner and spilled onto the steps of Seattle University.
As we marched we passed through historically Black areas of Seattle. A significant stop on our route was a visit to the Omari house, the Umojafest Peace Center. Long time civil rights activist, Omari Tahir-Garrett was born and raised in Central District. During our stop at his home he gave a speech which focused on the effects of gentrification in Seattle. Many Black families are priced out of the area, a form of ‘ethnic cleansing’. Omari is doing the work to reverse this trend, for the past several years Garret has been in the process of establishing an Africatown Seattle Cultural Center for years. He shared his experience being incarcerated and his ability to use the time as an opportunity to learn about the social and political policies effecting the Black community, he read about the roles of Black Muslims and the leaders within Black Panther Party, later becoming a Black Panther Party member. Omari ended with an announcement of his running for city council where he would be able to take on the role of establishing the cultural center.
Our last stop, just around the corner from Omari’s house, was at Uncle Ike’s dispensary on union in Central District. The recreational marijuana dispensary is located in a Black area just behind a church, Mt. Calvary Christian Center, Protestors chanted, “Take a Hike Uncle Ike!” Employees rolled security gates down over the windows, barring in buyers and keeping protestors out. The community wants to close the shop down. Their business within the Central District represents the gross injustice that the Black community suffers within the criminal justice system. Millions of Black men and women have been arrested and imprisoned for marijuana related crimes as a part of the war of drugs. Now that legalization is spreading throughout the nation, white owned dispensaries are profiting of of a business that imprisoned Blacks. Uncle Ike’s location adds insult to injury, nestled right next to Mt. Calvary Church, the shop is in violation of the law which forbids dispensaries to be within a thousand feet of a school, playground, library or church. These policies haven’t applied to Uncle Ike’s dispensary and as a result several demonstration have occurred outside of his shop including protestors marching on 4.20 last year, this demonstration wasn’t the first to call out Uncle Ike and it definitely wont be the last.
The demonstration ended in front of Uncle Ike’s with the chant, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”The chant can be heard in the introduction of Tiara Thomas’ Black Girl Soldier, a famous quote from the revolutionary leader, Assata Shakur. The chant embodies the spirit behind these demonstrations, actions taken to uplift oppressed groups are not lost even when progress seems slow. Another march is being organized by this group scheduled for April 15th in Westlake Park.