Marches and Demonstration

We Must Tell Murray No New Youth Jail in Seattle

Defund Hate Ed Murray and Down Constantine

This evening Seattle activists organized a demonstration on the sidewalks outside of Ed Murray’s home to protest the construction of a new youth jail in Seattle. The decision on whether to approve or deny the construction permit is in the hands of Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantin and it is growing dangerously close as a decision to provide the permit will be made this Thursday, December 22. It’s no surprise that the move was scheduled to be made during the holiday, a time where city officials may have hoped that the decision would slip under our noses. The holidays did not stop us. Activists lined up in the cold on both sides of the street off of 10th Ave and E Boston picketing, holding up banners and passing flyers out to cars that drove by. The event was not publicized on social media, rather activists shared demonstration details privately via email and messenger in order to avoid the potential of heavy policing that could have potentially blocked protesters from accessing the area. Regardless officers showed up in uniform. Protesters urged passerby to call, email and even tweet at the Mayor to notify him of their disagreement with the $210 million project. Protesters shouted the following chants at Murray’s home: “Murrays safe inside his home while our kids are all alone”; “Invest in education, no kids in incarceration”; “Deny the permit hurry, hurry, we know where you live Ed Murray”; “Down with Dow, justice now, let our kids out out out!”

Both Murray and Constantine, are up for re-election next year and voters are urged not to re-elect the politicians if they decide to grant the construction permit to build the new jail. If so, the new youth jail would be Murray’s longest legacy as mayor. We must understand that detaining young people does not lower their chances of re-offending, but does the opposite, increasing the likelihood of their being incarcerated later in life. In Seattle children are arrested for status offenses, such as underage use of alcohol or running away from home, these are not crimes. The county makes criminals out of abused youth in bad situations and by incarcerating children for trivial acts we are creating criminals, providing fuel to the prison industrial complex. Along with this, public eduction has been de-funded by $74 million, this blatantly shows the city’s commitment to incarcerating rather than educating our youth. This construction of the $210 million dollar facility shows the city’s commitment to mass incarceration, which completely refutes statements made by the City Council to work towards “zero youth in detention”. If no youth in detention is our goal then why are we taking steps in the opposite direction? Right now there are only 27 young people being detained in King County, but this new facility proposes 120 beds. This is more than 4x the amount of young people that are incarcerated in the current facility. The number of youth in detention has been decreasing, there is no need for a new youth jail unless the city sees this as a problem, planning to incarcerate more youth. 

The 2012 levy with funds used for this project was approved by voters with no mention of a jail or detention facility, the project was intentionally misleading, labeling the building as a “justice center for families and children”. We must recognize that a justice center with bars, cells and corrections officers is a jail and the fact that the levy intentionally mislead voters is exactly why construction must be stopped. In addition to this, knowing that only  8% of King County youth are black, yet they currently represent about half of those detained, we can see how juvenile detention centers are a direct attack on the Black community.  Now, we are at a crucial point in the fight against mass incarceration and we cannot allow the building of a new youth jail in Seattle. As of right now the City of Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection is planning to approve a permit to allow construction of the new jail  with millions of tax dollars. Today protesters made sure that Murray knows that we do not want a new youth jail in Seattle. A decision to move forward with the project is a choice against the best interest of our city, our children and our families. A new detention facility only reinforces the prison-industrial complex, instead we should be exploring alternative ways to rehabilitate and support young people in our county.  

There is no such thing as a child criminal, but there are children who suffer from abuse that are detained, an experience which fosters criminal behavior. As a Poetry mentor in King County Juvenile detention each week I sit one on one with multiple children that are being held in detention and hear their stories to write poetry together in an attempt to reflect and heal. Programs like these are what our kids need. No child should be an inmate locked in a cage. I want to end this piece with a poem I wrote with a youth in Detention just last week, and although a corrections officer described him as “serial killer weird” I knew that like all of us he was only a product of the suppressive and damaging environment that this country has allowed to fester in our criminal justice system. 

BEING IN DETENTION 

Being in detention

It feels like a double-edged sword

On one side you learn about failures

That are real and untrue

On the other side

You understand

That free people don’t care about us

Trying to shovel money

And forget about us

It takes detention to realize

That free people

Don’t give a fuck about us…

 Now Let’s show our youth that we do give a fuck! Here is the petition to sign: https://www.change.org/p/don-t-cage-kids-no-new-youth-jail-in-king-county

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About Amani Sawari

I am a University of Washington alum, Class of 2016. I graduated with my Bachelors Degree in two majors: Media and Communications AND Law, Economics and Public Policy. It’s a mouthful but it illustrates how I have a hard time doing only one ‘thing’. I am a writer, poet, singer, songwriter and much more. I enjoy sharing my experiences and perspectives with those who are interested and I am a proud member of the black diaspora!

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