South Seattle Emerald contributors met with candidates running for Seattle City Council’s District 2 seat. Incumbent Bruce Harrell announced in January he would not run, and seven candidates filed to take over his vacant seat. This week the Emerald will publish interviews the candidates talking about their campaigns in their own words. Today, Emerald contributor Carolyn Bick speaks with Christopher Peguero. Click here to read all of the candidate interviews published so far.
by Aaron Burkhalter
Omari Tahir-Garrett is a community activist and organizer and is running for the Seattle City Council’s District 2 position, which encompasses Southeast Seattle and the International District.
Tahir-Garrett runs UMOJA Peace Center and first ran for city council in the 1970s. He has been involved in multiple movements preserving Black spaces in the Central District, particularly at Colman School, which now houses the Northwest African American Museum.
Recently he fought to keep the UMOJA Peace Center at a property in the Central District, prompting protests from supportive activists. He also flashed in the news after a confrontation with Uncle Ike’s owner Ian Eisenberg when Tahir-Garrett invoked the Holocaust — Eisenberg is Jewish.
Tahir-Garrett is unique among the Seattle City Council candidates running, in that he is not actively campaigning and has encouraged voters to support another candidate running for the same position, Tammy Morales. Tahir-Garrett described his campaign as having zero dollars and zero endorsements.
Instead, he is using his candidacy to push other candidates and those attending forums to pursue solutions to Seattle’s challenges.
Aaron Burkhalter: Tell us about your background and why you are running for Seattle City Council.
Omari Tahir-Garrett: I grew up in Seattle for 73 years, other than when I’m traveling internationally, and when I was 13 at Meany Middle School, that was in ’57, the police killed Eddie Lincoln, one of our 13-year-old school mates. That’s when I first became aware that police would kill you.
My dad was the first Black electrical engineer in the whole northwest of the U.S. — Washington, Idaho. He was head of Fish and Wildlife ’57 and ’58. Then when they had the riots in ’68, they moved him to the post office. His job was to get Black contractors employed on, working on the post office. One on 23rd and Union is the first one he did — that used to be a Safeway. So I basically grew up as a dark-skinned white person.
I coached little league baseball for 40 years. So I’ve got kids everywhere. I’ve got 21 kids in the cemetery to stupid gang banging. I’ve got three engineers and people in the navy. The only place I don’t basically have kids I coach is on the police department, which is good because you either be there a year and you gotta make your choice what you’re going to do: You’re either going to stay in the garbage or you’re going to go do something else.
So being in the middle of everything, I got a chance to problem solution. There’s five ways to deal with a problem. First you don’t even know you have a problem. Second you know you have a problem but you don’t do nothing about it. Third time you have a problem but you just talk about it. The fourth thing is you try to solve the problem. The fifth one is trying to take advantage of the problem if you can’t solve it.
AB: We have skyrocketing rents and housing prices, gentrification especially among people of color. What are your solutions to address these issues?
OTG: First of all, when the Native Americans were in charge, there was no homelessness. The reason you have homelessness now is because the government either owns the land or it’s been privatized.
You’ll never see an unemployed homeless bird. Why? Because when you don’t have a home, his job is what? Finding trees to land on. And if you’re a pigeon, he finds a building to land on. No matter what, you always have a home.
So the problem is, this area, is the land costs too much. Remember when they had the homesteading? You come from Europe, you line up, they pull the pistol, all the land that you can put stakes around belongs to you. Then when they did the railroads, they give the railroads three miles on this side of the track, three miles on that side of the track. That’s where they got their money from — all that land.
The U.S. is set up with inequality. Everybody can see it. You got rich people, you got poor people. All the rich people get along, because they can go get on an airplane or get in a car and go where they feel comfortable. And if you’re poor, you’re stuck.
My background is building housing. That’s why I like Africa, because you can build housing out of rammed earth. It’s just an update of the old mud hut. You just put a little concrete in it and you form it like you’re forming concrete. You put it in and then you pound it. Part of the Great Wall of China was built and some of the big buildings in Europe was built out of rammed earth construction. It’s an old technology, and earth is everywhere. I’m planning to get back to Africa and do that.
But I wanted to run for politics to — if you go to my site, you’ll see that I’ve got a 10-point program with the solutions to the 10 basic problems that U.S. has.
AB: How would you handle sweeps that the city is doing against homeless people?
OTG: That’s gun violence, because they come with the police to sweep people off the street. You can’t sleep on the sidewalk, you can’t sleep in the park, you can’t sleep there, you can’t sleep there. Well where are you supposed to sleep? You gotta sleep somewhere. I mean it’s a human right to be able to sleep. You have a human right to food, shelter. Any society can’t provide its so-called citizens food and shelter got a problem.
Now in Europe, Switzerland, and Sweden, they got what you call guaranteed income, because they know if you have no money, you gotta get money. I don’t care how disciplined your cat is, if you tell the cat don’t get up on the table and eat the meat, but you don’t give him something to eat, guess what he’s gonna do? Behind your back he’s going to get up on the table, because no animal is going to starve to death. Same way with human beings; no human being is going to starve to death just because you don’t have money.
So Jimmy Carter’s got the best program: Habitat for Humanity. Get the people that need a house, get some land, get some expertise, and put the people to work building their own house. Houses are not very complicated — all you need is one person who knows how to build a house and other people follow instructions.
AB: Tell me about your plan for the police department.
OTG: First of all, when I’m in London, the police don’t have guns. Now they can go get guns if they need them. When I’m in Africa, the police don’t even have a walkie-talkie and a stick. And if you get into it with the police, he’ll take your belt off and hit you like a kid. But if you’re right, you can fight with him, but if you’re wrong don’t touch the police because they respect authority. Charleena Lyles would be alive today if the police didn’t have guns.
How do you go to a 90 pound pregnant woman’s house because she called in and needed help, and you go in with 9 mm and claim she had a paring knife on her, and you kill her in front of her kids. That doesn’t even make sense.
John T. Williams, he’s walking across the street with a carving knife, he walked right in front of the police car. Police jumped out telling him to drop it, and in two seconds he shot him.
Tamir Rice. They did a report. Kid has a toy gun. Police come drive up the side and then in two seconds they shot him. Well, if they thought it was a real gun, they wouldn’t have pulled up beside him. And then we all of us grew up with guns. So why all the sudden now a 12-year-old kid gets killed because he has a toy gun. It’s just madness.
AB: But you have a plan for limiting how long people can be on the police force.
OTG: Yeah the police can only be police for five years. And during that five years he got to get a teaching certificate. Would you let a doctor with a scalpel and a high school diploma operate on you? Well why would you give somebody with a high school diploma something much more dangerous than scalpel — a gun — and let him operate on you.
Being in the police is working in a toxic environment. If you go on the internet it’s called cumulative PTSD. Going to a house, knock on the door, don’t know whether you’re going to get shot, going to traffic accidents and seeing people all messed up, bloody and, you know. After a while you become cold, hard. So they need to get in a different environment, teaching school, working with kids, because with kids it’s a different environment. Then if they want to, after five years of teaching, they can come back and be a policeman. But you can’t be a career policeman. It’s like a soldier and being on the battlefield fighting all the time.
AB: One of your other campaign issues is reparations. How should the City Council address this?
OTG: They got money for anything and everything, expect paying black folks what they did to them. Until they address that, they’re gonna have this problem. It’s a color problem. Du Bois didn’t say the battle of the 20th century was going to be the battle of the races. Because it’s going to be the battle of the color line. Because there’s only one race — the human race. It’s artificial division of the human race by basically white sociologists, so they could put blonds at the top and then the dark-skinned blacks at the bottom.
AB: What was your take on the head tax that the city council passed and then quickly repealed?
OTG: Well listen, it shows you who runs Seattle. Like the deep state? Money runs all society. Whether it’s the king with all the money, whether it’s the corporations are by definition set up to exploit people. The corporate officers’ responsibility, judiciary responsibility to optimize the corporate profit. Not to look out for the society. That’s the difference between socialism and capitalism. Capitalism is about greed and money and power. Monopoly capitalism is when the small businesses get eaten up and all the sudden you get monopoly corporations. And they have so much money because they concentrate money and they’re able to run over… That’s why Bezos has got this slate of police sympathizers that he’s trying to run for the city council, and the one that’s targeted is Kshama Sawant, which I happen to be a big supporter of. Her and Tammy Morales.
AB: You have been encouraging people to vote for Tammy Morales. It’s unusual to have somebody running for office but then encouraging people to vote for somebody running for the same seat.
OTG: I run for office for solutions and ideas. I get more done from the street level, organizing the community to block the police department at 23rd and Yesler. We took over the Colman School for African American Heritage Museum, the Liberty Bank Building. This whole Africatown concept. You can’t get nothing done down there on the City Council. You see how they vote against Kshama. Even on the employee tax. They passed it — Kshama got it passed. Then Bezos is still hollering and screaming with his big money. And in one week they have these phone conversations and then they vote to change it. Kshama was the only one that said no. If you want money to fight homelessness, you’ve got to get it from the people that got money. You can’t get money from poor people.
But see the U.S. is so greedy and money oriented that it’s cutting their own throat.
AB: It sounds like what you’re saying is your campaign isn’t about getting into office but to guide the conversation and get people talking about organizing.
OTG: Deal with solutions to deal with the problems. It’s like I said, you’ve got there’s five ways to deal with a problem. First you don’t know you have a problem. Second is you know you have a problem, but you don’t do nothing about it, you ignore it. The third is you know you’ve got a problem, but you just talk about it, you march in the street and walk around in circles — that’s no solution. The fourth one is to come up with solutions to problems. It’s obvious that what we’ve got going now is not working. You’ve got too many people homeless. You’ve got too many people that want to kill other people. You’ve got too many guns.
AB: Do you see the work you’re doing with the other candidates and the community work you’re doing right now, do you think that’s starting to take hold?
OTG: I dominate all the forums because of the solutions. If you read my website, the 10 points and 10 solutions to the problems the culture and society has.
I had the same ones 50 years ago. That’s why I am in Africa, ebcasue capitalism is going to do what capitalism does. Because now the new royalty is the corporate heads. How is somebody make $150 million in a year and another employee is only worth $50,000 year. How can one person be that much more valuable than another person? It’s ridiculous. Especially when they’re not doing the work — they’re pushing paper.
AB: Is there anything else that you want people to know about your campaign and the work you’re doing right now?
OTG: Just go on my website. Because I don’t file for endorsements. I don’t do that. It’s enough for me to take my time and go to these forums. When I go to those forums, the first thing I ask is, is there anybody with rocks and tomatoes? And they laugh. And I say OK I guess I can tell the truth.
Feature photo by Aaron Burkhalter.