by Ronnie Estoque
No one within a mile of Othello Park Sunday afternoon could avoid the message. The crowd was too massive, the signs too numerous and the uniform chant, Black Lives Matter, was too loud.
A multi-racial, multi-generational, and multi-gendered assemblage of an estimated 8,000 people gathered in one of South Seattle’s oldest parks Sunday afternoon to protest racial injustice, yes, but also its structural catalysts. Community members welcomed those in attendance with speeches that kicked off the rally.
“I’m tired of hearing about it [police brutality], I’m tired of having family members dealing with it, I’m tired of going to funerals going to wakes, having to see my family in caskets…we need to come together and fight against this as one,” said local South Seattle youth Leontai Barry from the stage.
Community collaboration between organizations such as Community Passageways, Creative Justice, WA- BLOC, Safe Passages, and Emerald City Bible Fellowship helped coordinate the march and rally. Dom Davis, the CEO of Community Passageways, an organization focused on youth empowerment, had begun to plan the march to call for peace in the streets, long before George Floyd’s murder.
“Institutional racism is the reason these fellows are killing each other. Institutional racism has produced redlining, a lack of education. It has flooded our communities with guns and drugs,” Davis said.
A big focus for the organizers was to uplift the voices of Black youth in the South Seattle community, who were at the forefront holding a “We Want to Live” banner during the march, which eventually made its way down Rainier Avenue towards the Rainier Beach Safeway.
“I see so many of my kids and their families out here today… I want you to remember that it takes a village to raise these children,” said South Shore K-8 teacher Chelsea Adams. She also made a call to action to white protesters that had shown up in solidarity: to hold Mayor Jenny Durkan accountable for injustices committed by the Seattle Police Department.
Three horsemen helped lead the rally onward towards the Rainier Beach Safeway, with not a single Seattle Police Department Officer in sight. Former NBA star, and Rainier Beach native, Nate Robinson was also in attendance for the march. During Sunday’s march, one song echoed throughout the streets of Othello and Rainier Ave: Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.”
“We’re coming together, it’s a beautiful thing. All races for one cause, they [police] gotta stop the racism, they gotta stop discriminating against our people,” Robinson said. “Enough is enough, we’re walking and protesting peacefully.”
The rally eventually made its way to the Rainier Beach Safeway parking lot, where two young men were shot and killed on May 23. Roxanne White, a Yakama Nation member, opened the rally with a Duwamish land acknowledgment as well as a naming of Native Americans who had also been killed by the Seattle Police Department.
Singers on stage sang the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing, with many in the crowd joining in tune. Several Black mothers that had lost their sons and other relatives to police killings also took the stage and shared their pains and frustrations with the lack of police accountability regarding their prospective cases.
“Police terrorism, or over-policing, go hand in hand with gentrification,” said K. Wyking Garrett, President and CEO of Africatown Community Land Trust. “In order for black lives to matter, black communities have got to matter.”
Garrett emphasized the importance of having Black ownership and land development within a city that is continuing to gentrify and pushing Black people beyond the city limits. He also stressed the importance of Black owner businesses during this economic uncertainty.
“People power is our greatest strength,” said community organizer, lawyer, and former Seattle mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver. “As a black liberation movement not just against police brutality and state-sanctioned violence, but a movement that is demanding the immediate dismantling of white supremacist structures and racialized capitalism — we demand to see [the] Seattle Police Department defunded by 50 percent this year.”
Oliver stated that funds removed from the Seattle Police Department should go directly to Black, grassroots organizations that are already established and doing work in the local community. She shared her frustrations with grants being gate-kept by foundations and organizations in Seattle that have mainly white leadership boards.
“This gathering is historic…because we organized ourselves, we kept ourselves safe,” Oliver said.
Tia Yarbrough, Assistant Principal at South Shore PK-8, helped organize the march and shared a moving spoken-word piece with the crowd gathered just a few blocks from the school she serves.
“This is not a moment, but it’s a movement. Black lives have to matter today and every day,” Yarbrough said. “There’s George Floyds right here in our community, people that have lost their lives to police brutality right here.”
Derrick Wheeler-Smith, Director of Zero Youth Detention at King County Department of Public Health, also spoke and emphasized the importance of prioritizing the well-being of Black children in the community. He also discussed the importance of ending white supremacy at systemic levels within local government politics.
“We need to watch out for some of these Black folks that say that they are representing the Black community who have no intentions of ending white supremacy,” Wheeler-Smith said, in reference to civil rights movements of the past where some leaders prioritized individual success over that of the community’s. “They just want to improve their position in it, and get rewarded for showing up like that.”
Seattle City Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Tammy Morales were also in attendance. Sawant called for Mayor Durkan’s immediate resignation, and noted that she would push for articles of impeachment if need be.
Morales, who’s lived in South Seattle for more than a decade, said that Saturday’s turnout was the largest she’d ever seen for an event in the park. It also showed the growing numbers of people wanting to end racist policies.
“Everyone has come out to show that it’s time for us to move forward and keep advancing this fight,” said Morales.
As she spoke, rally-goers kept shouting the words Black Lives Matter resoundingly. It’s been a rallying cry across the nation to end police brutality against the Black community, and it was heard loud and clear in South Seattle Sunday afternoon.
Ronnie Estoque is a freelance journalist currently working with the International Examiner and the South Seattle Emerald. He is driven to uplift marginalized voices in the South Seattle community through his writing, photography, and videography. You can keep up with his work by following his Twitter account @RonnieEstoque.
Marcus Harrison Green contributed reporting to this article