Why I Will Never Stop Protesting the New Youth Jail

by Rabbi David Basior

Friday before last, I led a morning Jewish prayer service at the construction site of the new youth jail in King County, and witnessed police arrest six participants. I was leading the service as part of the People’s Moratorium, an effort to halt construction of the planned facility.

The moratorium is calling for King County to negotiate with community members to repurpose the buildings away from incarcerating youth and towards meeting basic human needs. As a crowd of supporters prayed outside the gates of the construction site, three faith community leaders were locked to beams inside the site. How did I get to this point, where my participation in the Moratorium has become a moral imperative?

As a Jew, my analysis of racism first sharpened when I went to Israel/Palestine in 2005. I had been interviewing Palestinian homeowners in Silwan (East Jerusalem) and learned of the racist city and national policies that did not allow permits to Palestinian people to build or add into existing homes as their family grew. I saw the ways in which racist practices were implemented as policy. It was in rabbinical school that I began reading The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander, with a group of friends and fellow students. Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown had already been murdered by protected citizens/the police. The existence of racism was not up for debate. The now more mainstream understanding of the prison system as a continuation of slavery in this country was beginning to gain ground.

When I returned to Seattle in 2015, after being away for six years, I became aware of the No New Youth Jail Campaign. I met more and more people involved in the campaign – lawyers, educators, activists, Black and Brown people, White people, Jewish people, Muslim people, and Christian people. I signed on to what I could and got organized by organizers and found myself organizing others. I took a public stand. I posted on Facebook.

After three years of connection to the campaign, which included some missteps on my part, I began to watch construction start at 12th and Alder. So much of the foundation is laid already as I write this today. The windows are tiny. The cages are being built.

How can a city that has voted unanimously in its city council for zero youth detention have given a permit to a county, which has also voted for zero youth detention, to build a jail for kids? How was this permit granted in the very neighborhood that was redlined into being a Black neighborhood (as well as Japanese, Filipino, and Jewish at various moments of the 20th century)? How does any elected official dare say that this is for the good of the kids? Report after report shows that juvenile detention leads to recidivism. Report after report shows that the old jail was about $1 million in renovations from being a suitable place to detain young people (temporarily). If the intention is to reduce to zero detention, why spend $233 million to build a brand new facility that is planned for obsolescence when we could spend a simple $1 million on a short-term solution while we build a future without youth detention?

Morally, let us look at the facts that as beds decrease in the facility, the percentage of Black and Brown kids incarcerated goes up. Let us look at how Black and Brown neighborhoods (which are Black and Brown because of racism and racial capitalism) get over policed and pushed into incarceration. Let us look to the national trend that has the US highly disproportionately incarcerating Black and Brown and Native young people and adults. Let us look at how incarceration is a continuation of slavery – which was a system intended to break and destroy the African body and spirit.

With all of this in mind, we are now witnessing part of that immoral, gross, and despicable system being built using our county dollars – Martin Luther King Jr. County dollars. We will let this stand?

We mustn’t. Many have been politicized since the 45th president took office. Many more before that with Black Lives Matter. Many more before that with the Occupy Movement, and many, many, many more before that with the disarmament movement, the anti-war movement(s), the anti-occupation movement(s), the LGBTQ liberation movements, the Poor People’s Campaign, the Black Power movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Labor movement, and more.

Can we unite? Can we say “Not in our county!”? Can we take a visible stand against the inherent racism in this youth jail and instead of investing in a future of Black and Brown overrepresentation in a county youth jail in our city, see $233 million be redirected to ending the school to prison pipeline? To programs that help young people build positive community relationships giving them opportunities to express themselves in safe, fun, creative, and communally accountable ways? Can we let our imaginations run wild beyond the racist system that has perpetuated for centuries?

I will not ever stop fighting the youth jail. I believe it to be a potential 50+ year investment into a system we already know to be immoral. I cannot stand for this grossly irresponsible lack of morality, imagination, and poor budgetary management. I see no reason, in 2018, why any King County resident would stand for this. It is time to galvanize our local political might once again and stand in unison saying: No New Youth Jail.

When I watched the six participants in my morning Jewish prayer service at the construction site be arrested last Friday while attempting to bring a moral voice to this issue, I understood. The people in power: Executive Constantine, Mayor Durkan, Police Chief Best, and each and every officer wearing a city badge, will not stop to consider the consequences. Their heels have been dug. Their hearts have been hardened. We must stand together to demand what is right and we must make the price of their hearts’ hardening known. The outcome of this fight, for a facility designed to last at least fifty years, will define how future generations of Black and Brown youth will be treated in this county. Now is the time to take a stand and redirect that future towards a just path.


Featured image by DJ Martinez

24 thoughts on “Why I Will Never Stop Protesting the New Youth Jail”

  1. Cool Hand Luke. Please see our comment guidelines. Your original post did not meet them as we do not condone personal attacks on any author. However, we do of course welcome challenges to the ideas they express. You are welcome to re-submit your post under that criteria.

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    1. Cool Hand Juke: You can directly email our editor if you want to contest that your original piece met our guidelines (editor@southseattleemerald.com). Though your original post anonymously lobbed personal insults at the writer, as opposed to challenging Rabbi Basior’s argument.

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  2. I called him out for continuing to act as though his actions had some effect on an already decided outcome of this situation in addition to the fact that he minimized his mistakes and while he spent a half a sentence admitting to them, he refused to elaborate on them so as to learn from them publically. Im offended at the continuing pipeline of feel-good “activists” who rarely achieve results yet continue to position themselves in front of these issues as some sort of champions of the downtrodden.

    Its extremely offensive, as a person of color, to watch the parade of white and pseudo-white progressives treat these issues as their personal pet projects while achieving the same failed results. If my rhetoric struck a nerve, perhaps that should serve as a signal….. if the truth hurts, say ouch but please don’t try and deny or stifle it.

    Its bizarre to watch this trainwreck unfold and the amount of disconnect from the actual community displayed in this opinion piece is staggering, yet not surprising.

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    1. Cool Hand Juke, you literally called the man a doofus. We’re again all for disagreement, but we’re certain you can get your point across without personal insults. Again, your original post did not follow our guidelines. This one does however, and we’ve posted it. You’re more than welcome to submit an Op-Ed as well.

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    2. Would you please stop with this nonsense? POC… lol, right! Is that why you type under a pseudonym with no picture? You can catch me at Cafe Red in Othello most mornings. You obviously don’t know what you’re talking about, simply attending one NNYJ protests would reveal that the movement is mostly black and brown people. Go take a scan of the photos of people at the protest, including me. Also, David is Jewish. I’m pretty sure they’ve been historically marginalized since, well, ever. Guessing this is some white person, who’s just angry another white person would actually align with folks of color against the jail. Why don’t you go on the NNYJ Facebook page, post your uninformed opinion and see how many actual people of color disagree with you: https://www.facebook.com/NoNewYouthJailSeattle/

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  3. “Would you please stop with this nonsense? POC… lol, right!”
    The articles author mentions that he is involved mainly to address the plight of “Black and Brown kids”. His piece is dripping with it.

    “Is that why you type under a pseudonym with no picture?”
    Says the anonymous poster w/no pic lol

    “You obviously don’t know what you’re talking about, simply attending one NNYJ protests would reveal that the movement is mostly black and brown people.”
    You tried to parlay my comments directly referring to the Jewish and white people featured in the article into some sort of attack on fellow minorities. Divide and conquer still sucks, especially when neo-liberals engage in it.

    “Go take a scan of the photos of people at the protest, including me.”
    Almost all of the initial photographic media on the facebook link you posted featured white people. Way to prove yourself wrong.

    “Also, David is Jewish. I’m pretty sure they’ve been historically marginalized since, well, ever.”
    You are absolutely tripping. Jewish people in todays America are among the most privileged groups there are. Not to mention the savage and predatory history many Jewish peoples have in regards to communities of color. A sad legacy which many Jewish peoples continue to foster/benefit from.

    “Guessing this is some white person, who’s just angry another white person would actually align with folks of color against the jail.”
    While that certainly is a convenient (although baffling) strawman on your part, Im not one of your lapdogs of color on a chain. Im a street as well as SPD certified gang member “of color.” I pretty much addressed my issues with the article and its author….. White neoliberal “progressives” and their “allies” of color are the MAIN ISSUE as to why these controversial and unpopular situations continue to fester. They have proven inept at leadership and combating these issues, yet REFUSE to step out of the way and allow for POC to self-determine through our OWN leadership. Its the same faces with the same failed results which have real consequences for real humans.

    “Why don’t you go on the NNYJ Facebook page, post your uninformed opinion and see how many actual people of color disagree with you:”
    Because I stated my opinion here, in direct response to the author, thats why. No need to engage at your personal, Zuckerman owned echo chamber. If you are so South End certified, I will be looking for your FRONT LINE representation the next time a police brutality situation jumps off homie.

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    1. Lol… I’m glad you didn’t actually address anything I brought up, but you sure can copy and paste!!! Say what you want about David, but at least he has the courage to sign his actual name on an opinion piece. Fine don’t get on the NNYJ FB, get on its message board. Again, the movement is overwhelmingly people of color, except the white allies who have been ASKED by those same people of color to assist with the struggle. You can have your own opinion, as warped as it is, but don’t try to peddle falsehoods about the NNYJ movement. I hope you locate reality sometime soon, though I understand that fantasy has its appeals.

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      1. Everything I copied and pasted was from your post, so who else would I be addressing? You didnt address anything I mentioned however, and I expected that.

        You people failed. Miserably. Yet you still cant step back and address your own shortcomings and when confronted with them in public as I have done, you flail wildly for the rest of the site readers to clearly see for themselves…….

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  4. Right… We failed so miserably that people actually call it a Youth Jail as opposed to the “Family Justice Center” line the County is trying to peddle. As a result of our protest, there is more money allocated to alternatives, fewer beds on the jail cell, peace circles, and a reduction in kids being charged with status offenses. If you are a genuine POC (which… come on…) then you’re obviously from the Kanye West wing. You seem just as delusional as you’re defending a system and jail that disproportionately cages kids of color. I would seriously take a long assessment of myself.

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    1. You failed. Its built. And yall still want to be thought of as “effective” and “leaders”.

      You grasp at some ridiculous claim of victory by taking credit others have earned for a linguistic definition.

      If Im a “genuine POC”? Because Im not typing in slang or cooning for you I must not be of color right? Because a gang member is schooling you here, I must somehow not be that which I obviously am? You are exactly the kind of intentionally morally dyslexic individual that populates these movements, thereby ensuring the powers that be get their way. You accomplished nothing of significance. Your ineffective machinations pave the way for the continued failure of the protection of marginalized peoples of ALL races and backgrounds. Yet your arrogance wont allow you to just admit that yall are part of the problem, not solution.

      “then you’re obviously from the Kanye West wing.”
      What wing is that? I didnt know such a thing existed. He was yalls hero and now that his white-worship via the Kardashians has apparently (in part) driven the man insane, hes somehow indicative or representative of a “wing” of POC? Another completely ridiculous strawman and insult from you. I suppose its the best you can offer.

      “You seem just as delusional as you’re defending a system and jail that disproportionately cages kids of color.”
      Im intent on fighting the system. YOU are intent on defending it by demanding the same failed tactics and strategies. You failed and instead of stepping back and assessing why, you double down and seek to silence those of us whom are actually FIGHTING the system. Your weakness and intentional dishonesty allows these savage treatments of marginalized people to continue. Have you ever been locked up in youth (or adult for that matter) incarceration facilities? I have. Were you made a ward of the state as a juvenile? I was. How many funerals of your lost friends, family and comrades have you attended? I have lost count. I stopped going because it hurt me to the point where my bitterness could have overtaken my hope.

      “I would seriously take a long assessment of myself.”
      Sure you WOULD… meaning you COULD…. but you obviously aint interested in doing so. You have made your self-assessment, and its neo-lib city for you. Just enough rhetoric to keep wearing the “progressive” costume without any results of substance to show for all yalls time at the helm and all those wasted resources. Dont worry, you will likely continue to gain financial and other support from the system and fail. We will keep fighting in our own way but when the time comes you will have a stark choice to face….. either accept that you were part of the problem and get in line with those who are actually fighting for change if we will have you, or admit that this was all a lie to make yourselves feel better, not a struggle for those who are suffering. At that time yall can take your balls and go home. The important question is, how many lives will continue to suffer and be impacted while yall play do-gooder dress-up?

      In other news, its telling that my original post was pulled by the SSE staff because I referred to the failed author as a “doofus”, yet you are allowed to repeatedly question and insult my ethnicity.

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      1. Umm.. I didn’t call you out of your name I referred to your behavior. And you’re one to talk, you continue to disrespect me, but whenever you’re challenged you get extremely defensive. I’m not insulting your ethnicity, I’m simply not taking you at your word. You get to hide behind anonymity so you could be anyone and have yet to prove that you are a person of color. I think the difference between clearly using a derogatory term against someone and questioning the veracity of someone’s claim is fairly obvious, To be honest, the Emerald should’ve pulled most of your post, simply for vapidness.

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  5. Furthermore, I just gave you a list of improvements that are directly tied to our activism. If you want to ignore them, then that’s on you. I’m going to say that we’ve done more to improve the lives of our children by being in the streets, and going to public meetings than you’ve done by railing at a Rabbi, and copy and pasting words of others. In fact, please point to something YOU”VE done to keep children out of jail?

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    1. You refuse to address your shortcomings that I spelled out clearly.
      Your re/misdirected attacks are futile, but duly noted.
      You followed me to another authors unrelated piece and attacked my post there which was supportive of their article in a vain attempt to derail the public discourse. You expose yourself.

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      1. So is this an admission that YOU can’t name one thing you’ve done? Meanwhile, you attempt to diminish the things we’ve ACTUALLY accomplished? But yeah… still waiting for that ONE thing you’ve done besides simply run your mouth….

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      2. I have went toe-to-toe with police, real physical confrontations. Not your weak sauce rhetoric which gets no results. Im not saying Im super activist or anything, or that Im a leader. But Im down to make a stand and risk my own person to back it up.

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  6. And lived to tell the tale did you!!! Riiiiggghhtt… and I’m sure you also have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell me as well? Our ACTIONS actually got beds reduced in the jail along with all the other things that you glossed over I’m glad that the best you could come up with was the grand total of jack squat that you’ve done. I’m vexed just where you find the nerve to criticize David or anyone in the NNYJ movement who actually puts action behind their words.But I guess it’s easier to spend an inordinate amount of time and energy in a comment section than actually attempting to improve the world.

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  7. The homies that stood together when those confrontations have went down survived them as well. It bothers you that we are alive? Creepy.

    Perhaps the lesson there is that standing strong and untied is a better recipe for surviving this murderous onslaught than placing our trust and efforts with “leaders” like yall eh? Either way, pretty sure the cops have at least some of those golden moments on tape somewhere.

    “an inordinate amount of time and energy in a comment section”
    I understand that it takes you so long and so much effort to express yourself via typing, but each response here takes up less than 10 minutes of my day.

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    1. Apparently, along with an unwillingness to confront reality, you have a problem with sarcasm. I’m just calling you out on what appears to be obvious b.s.

      And I guess it would only take you 10 minutes a day to produce your vast pile of comments since they don’t actually address anything substantively. Instead, you just throw a few platitudes on the screen and believe you’ve actually arrived at a salient point. That’s pretty sad for you. Hopefully, you don’t operate like that in the actual word.

      I’m glad with all that extra time you have that you’re attempting to improve the world for the kids of this county. Oh wait, you’re not. Makes it all the more pathetic.

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  8. I’m also glad that this thread is as long as it is, so people have a huge sample size of just had empty, banal, flimsy, and inhumane your viewpoint is.

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    1. People on this site dont seem to care about your opinions of me, or anything else. Like James Brown said: “Talkin loud, sayin nothin”

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    2. “People on this site don’t appear to care about you at all.”
      Says the poster who cant quit yakking at me and is following me around to other articles lol

      I’ve had good interactions with others on here and even received a few likes on my posts so I guess Im resonating with some peoples here. I hope you can check your ego and entitlement and either engage with me on a productive level or leave me be.

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