Category Archives: News

Activists Call For More Investment in Education, Not Incarceration

EducationTwo rallies this morning, both organized by the Alliance for a Just Society, will issue powerful calls for more government investment in education – not incarceration.

At least 300 community leaders, and activists at each gathering will call for freedom from crushing student loan debt, and freedom from jailing children.

The rallies are part of the Alliance’s Power from the Roots Up conference being held this week on the University of Washington campus. Organizers, grassroots activists, and small business owners from 14 states are attending the conference.

Nationwide Seattle is often seen as ground zero in the movement to combat income inequality and to build power through grassroots activism.

The first rally today will be held from 9:30 – 10:30 a.m. at the Federal Building, Second Avenue and Marion Street, to demand that the Department of Education, Sallie Mae and corporate bankers stop profiting off the backs of college students.

Speakers will talk about their student loan debt, the crowd will help “grade” the Department of Education on a giant report card, then several participants will deliver petitions to the DOE office in the Federal Building.

“As an educator, what I see my students experiencing is extremely troubling,” said Louisa Edgerly, an adjunct instructor at Seattle University, and one of the speakers at the rally.

“Schoolwork is suffering because of the long hours and multiple jobs students are working to afford college,” she said. “I’m concerned about the potential narrowing of career options due to their debt load upon graduation, and the urgency to take any job so they can make their payments.”
The second event Friday, calling on the King County Council to scrap plans for a $210 million juvenile detention center, starts at 11 a.m. outside the King County Courthouse, 516 Third Avenue. Experts say community-based restorative justice programs have much higher success rates than simply jailing children.

“Young people today need more positive people in our ears reminding us what to do and what not to do. I feel like there should just be more mothering and fathering and mentoring instead of a new youth jail,” said Rashaud Johnson, with EPIC – End the Prison Industrial Complex – one of the organizations participating in the rally.

 

New Holly to Open Farm Stand This Week

Farm StandsThe New Holly Farm Stand opens this Friday, July 11th and will offer fresh organic produce picked right from the P-Patch market gardens. Grown by low-income gardeners, the produce that is fresh right now is spinach, carrots, leafy vegetables, new onions, peas, turnips, and radishes, to name a few. The farm stand will operate every Friday, until September 26th, between the  hours of 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. The farm stand accepts EBT cards and participate in Fresh Bucks which doubles consumers’ first $10 spent on the card.

Seattle P-Patch Market Gardens is a program of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods P-Patch Community Gardening Program in collaboration with Seattle Housing Authority and GROW to support low-income gardeners and their neighborhoods. Its mission is to establish safe, healthy communities and economic opportunity through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and farm stand enterprises.

 

To learn more, visit seattle.gov/neighborhoods/ppatch/marketgardens/.

 

The Movies Come To Skyway

by Marcus Harrison Green

Fans express their affection for the Skyway Outdoor Cinema.
Fans express their affection for the Skyway Outdoor Cinema.

If the image of neighbors camped outside under starlit sky – sprawled over transplanted home furnishings while gorging on popcorn, and participating in a collective chorus of oohs and awes conducted by a recent Hollywood blockbuster – seems a sight capable only in one of the idiosyncratic enclaves belonging to the northern end of our fair city, then you may want to watch your step for stray shards of shattered assumptions, as South Seattle readies for its own brand of outdoor film fun.

Later this summer, the Skyway neighborhood will play host to the community run – and eponymously titled- Skyway Outdoor Cinema (SOC) – a cinema series that will commence August 1st – in the U.S. Bank parking lot behind the 7-Eleven on Renton Avenue and 76th – with a showing of Despicable Me 2, and run three successive Fridays thereafter – finishing up August 22nd with Frozen.

Stewarded for over a decade by the volunteer operated West Hill Community Association (WHCA) – previously known as the West Hill Community Council (WHCC) – SOC was originally founded to provide a free, family oriented event that served as a much needed opportunity for engagement amongst community members.

A series of obstacles, including the lack of a thriving business district from which to draw sponsors, the challenge of uniting a disparate fan base and coordinating extensive fundraising efforts led to a reliance on grant funds to maintain a basic level of operation for the first thirteen seasons of the event.

With King County dissolving Unincorporated Area Councils in 2011 in response to budgetary concerns – resulting in a loss of guaranteed annual funding for the WHCC and a forced reorganization resulting in the newly rebranded WHCA – plus dwindling available grant funds, SOC decided to take a new approach. The new strategy, begun last season, is one that uses design and social media to increase its connection with fans and a more sustainable approach to its operating budget. By harnessing the power of its fans with crowdfunding and making smart purchases that eliminated the need to rent expensive equipment year after year – reducing basic operating costs- the event added a higher level of stability and increased its potential for growth.

Now in its second phase of life, the organizers of the open air cinema have redoubled their efforts in utilizing the event to galvanize the entire West Hill Community – which includes the neighborhoods of Skyway, Lakeridge, Bryn Mawr, Campbell Hill, Earlington, Hilltop, Panorama View, and Skycrest – providing a centralized gathering locale that functions as an incubator of community, and that otherwise wouldn’t exist. Something that – according to locals – has been long overdue in the area.

“I think everyone is really tired of Skyway getting such a bad rap. Most people simply absorb what they hear on the news, but those assumptions really aren’t rooted and fact and experience. I think that not only hurts our image outside of our community, but I think it affects us as neighbors as well. We want to provide a fun, free, safe family environment for people to really learn what their community’s all about – I think we deserve that.” said Devin Chicras, WHCA board member and co-organizer of the cinema – in addition to moonlighting as the event’s Master of Ceremonies, Diligent Custodian, Technical Support, and Amiable Attendant Greeter during its film screenings.

With that goal in mind, organizers have made great strides in improving their marketing efforts to attract a much larger swath of the community. Chicras, along with co-organizer Mary Goebel, have worked hard on implementing the new strategy for SOC, which included heavily promoting the event on social media platforms and improving visitors’ experience at every level from engaging pre-show entertainment to free raffle prizes and keeping all concession items under a dollar.

By all measures, these new efforts appear to be working, as not only did attendance double last year, but the event has also enticed people from as far away as Burien and Des Moines to spend their Friday nights in Skyway.

Not bad for an area whose own residents, not all that long ago, barely wanted to set foot on its pavement. “It’s incredible to see this little parking lot in Skyway fill up with all these folks, having fun, talking to their neighbors, eating popcorn or having Domino’s delivered to them while seated on lawn chairs, detached minivan seats, or sprawled out picnic-style on a blanket. These are the people you see sometimes walking down the street, in the store, waiting at the bus stop. And now they’re here, like one big family. At 10pm behind a 7-Eleven in Skyway. It’s truly surreal, and completely inspiring.” Says Chicras.

Communal appreciation could not have come at a better time, as in the ensuing years since losing the majority of its funding, the event has had to rely more heavily on contributions from those living around the area. A dependency that appears quite secure, as the cinema was recently able to purchase a brand new audiovisual system, directly as a result of local generosity.

Costing a little under $7000, The A/V system – which will allow for a larger film projection, along with improved sound and picture quality more in line with traditional cinematic experiences – seemed out of reach for event organizers, as they received only a $3000 Community Engagement Grant from King County towards its purchase. Unsure of how they would make up the difference Chicras and Goebel turned to the community via a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.

“We only needed $3975 and ended up getting $4320! We were absolutely blown away by the generosity of our community.” said Chicras. The additional funds will be used to supplement SOC’s already meager budget, as it has never turned a profit, nor sought to – its primary mission remaining to build connections between residents. “We’re doing our best to make sure each and every person feels like being in that parking lot with their neighbors and friends is exactly where they should be on a Friday night in August.”

That is believed to be mission accomplished according to Sherrie Vineyard – who has attended the cinema since its inception.

“It gives (Skyway residents) four Friday nights each summer to really connect with our families and neighbors, and share what we’re about as a community. Last year, they held a raffle for school supply filled backpacks, and I was lucky enough to win one. That backpack went to a little boy who had a mom with no idea of how she was going to get supplies for him. The Skyway Outdoor Cinema does more than impact the lives of the community for four weeks each summer. They impact lives for years to come with their generosity and warm hearts.”

Skyway Outdoor Cinema runs August 1st (Despicable Me 2), 8th (The Lego Movie), 15th (Gravity) and 22nd (Frozen). Pre-show entertainment starts at 8pm, with the film at 9pm. Visit their website (MyWestHill.org/SOC) and Facebook Page (Facebook.com/SkywayOutdoorCinema) for more information.

Additional thanks to Devin Chicras for assisting with this article.

Mayor Announces “Find It, Fix It” Community Walks In South Seattle

community walks

In his public safety address to the Seattle City Council last week, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray detailed a series of ‘Find it, Fix it’ Community Walks, focused on several crime hotspots.

At the walks, community residents, police, and city officials will walk together to identify physical disorder and solve it, hence the find it and fix it theme. The primary areas of focus are graffiti removal, street lighting, litter and garbage clean-up, and trimming overgrown bushes and trees.

The first Find It, Fix It Community Walk

Wednesday, July 2, 7 – 9 p.m., 23rd Ave. S and S. Jackson St. (Red Apple Parking Lot)

7 – 7:30 p.m.

Short program featuring Murray, Councilmember Bruce Harrell, City Attorney Pete Holmes, Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, and department representatives.

7:30 – 8:40 p.m

Walk commences along the following route:

  • Jackson from 23rd to 22nd
  • 22nd from Jackson to Main
  • Jackson from 25th to 26th
  • Stop at Fire Station 6 (405 Martin Luther King Jr Way S)
  • Walk along S King St. to 28th and 29th
  • Return to the Red Apple parking lot

8:40- 9 p.m.

Walk concludes and department representatives are available for follow-up questions

Additional ‘Find it, Fix it’ Community Walks will take place in the upcoming weeks:

  • July 8, 7 – 9 p.m.: Orcas and MLK
  • July 22, 7 – 9 p.m.: Sound Transit tour, between Rainier Beach and Othello Stations
  • July 29, 7 – 9 p.m.: Rainier Ave. and Genesee
  • August 12, 7 – 9 p.m.: Rainier Beach

New King County Detention Center An Albatross For South Seattle Youth?

by Marcus Harrison Green

Editor’s Note: This is our first installment in a series on the redevelopment of the King County Children and Family Justice Building, and its impact on South Seattle families and youth.

Juvy Center
King County Children and Family Justice Building

The words draped from the streetlamp read: Live,Learn, Work, Play. An extended invitation to all who pass underneath the sign – on 12th Avenue and Alder-  to enjoy the vibrant business and entertainment ward housed within its immediate surroundings.

However, as inhabitants scurry  past to imbibe at their favorite watering hole, or indulge their appetites at the nearest neoteric eatery,  it’s often easy for them to ignore the nondescript structure which rest no more than 20 feet away. Though, if the recent firestorm that has ignited over its future is any indication, the days of its obscurity are quite numbered.

“It’s a pure tragedy! That building will be nothing more than a kids for cash operation.” said Otieno Terry –  a local youth and Y.U.I.R (Youth Undoing Institutional Racism) member- in reference to the King County Children and Family Justice Center Building, which will soon be replaced by a new $210 million dollar facility bearing the same name. The development of which has stoked a tremendous amount of controversy in South Seattle for residents fearful over an extreme hike in youth incarcerations.

The impending construction of the new facility is being financed by a 2012 levy initiative passed by 53% of King County voters,which added an additional property tax of 7 cents per $1,000 of assessed land value to area homeowners over a 9 year time frame.

The existing building houses a juvenile detention center, and also serves as King County’s main facility for juvenile court cases, including those involving abuse, neglect, and child abandonment. The structure has not been renovated since 1972  and – according to the County-  has long been overdue for redevelopment.

“We were in a situation where the drinking water had turned brown. There was mold and mildew in the court houses, and our electrical system did not function properly,so that children who were in the housing units had to be provided extra blankets just in order to keep from freezing at night. Our sole motivation for building this new center is to make conditions better for the county and community.” said Claudia Balducci, Criminal Justice Strategy Section Manager for King County’s Office of Strategy and Budget.

But several area Social Justice groups – led by EPIC (End the Prison Industrial Complex) and AFSC (American Friends and Service Committee)-  have aligned to challenge the County’s assertion, as they view the building of the new facility as an action that will directly exacerbate the problem of disproportional imprisonment rates as it pertains to South Seattle minority youth.

While the overall rate of incarcerated King County juveniles has actually decreased in the past few years, by the County’s own data,  the proportion of youth of color: black, hispanic and asian, has actually risen during the same time period. In King County, minority adolescents are currently twice as likely to be placed in a detention center than their non-minority counterparts, despite making up less than 40% of area’s youth population.

“You can’t legitimately tell me that you’re going to build a new detention facility for almost a quarter of a billion dollars and keep it empty! This is a rift on if you build it, they will come. And where will this children be coming from? It won’t be from Mercer island, Bellevue or Magnolia. It will be from Rainier Beach, from Skyway, from Othello and the CD, as it already is.” said Dustin Washington of the AFSC.

The County, however, while acknowledging the persistent racial disparities in youth incarceration rates, maintains that the new building shouldn’t be viewed as an instrument that will further provoke those discrepancies, “I think there are a lot of misconceptions about the new building. It is going to house updated courtrooms, state of the art meeting spaces, and housing that isn’t at all detention oriented, but  is actually used for children who are victims of domestic abuse and have no other place to go. Yes, the detention center will still be a part of the facility,  but we’re actually reducing the number of beds from 200 in the current center,  to only 154 in the new building. Detention space isn’t like commercial real estate where you can create more on an as needed basis, so we have to make sure that we can still accommodate situations as they present themselves.” Says Balducci.

Members of the coalition against the facility say that the reduced number of beds in the detention center is still too many. “Depending on estimates, the average number of children in the detention center on any given night ranges between 54 -70 kids. They’re not even using half of the bed space as it is. No one is saying that they shouldn’t re-model the prison to improve its conditions, but $210 million for a completely new facility? Especially in our current climate where at every level of government, from federal, to our own state and county legislatures, are crying broke. They can’t afford adequate health care, housing or education for everyone in our state, county or city, yet we can afford a youth prison? This money has to be flowing to someone, somewhere.” Said James Williams, a coalition representative.

It’s a question that several area youth have also been asking, including Khalel Lee, an organizer with Y.U.I.R. “You know the importance of priorities by where money is placed. Instead of more money being put into education, they’re put into prisons. Why not take half of the money allocated for the prison and put it into our schools. We need better equipment. We need books that don’t fall apart when you turn the pages. We also need after school programs, and work programs for teenagers. We need things that are more preventive rather than punitive.”

For their part,  the County doesn’t feel that the preventive and punitive can’t go hand in hand. “This doesn’t have to be an either or situation. We agree wholeheartedly that we need to focus more energy, and give more support to preventive measures, but it’s also a reality that there are circumstances where detention is needed.” said Balducci.

She also rejected the notion that construction on the new building would function as a money grab. “Are their going to be contractors who get paid? Yes, of course, someone has to do the work. But,  thankfully we don’t have private prisons in Washington State that are run strictly to turn a profit.”

The issue recently came to its boiling point at a recent community forum held at the 2100 building on 24th Avenue South and hosted by EPIC- Which was attended by Balducci, along with a representative from King County Executive Director Dow Constantine’s Office. Over 200 South Seattle residents showed up to hear arguments for and against the center’s redevelopment, and to see whether any common ground could emerge between the two factions. Unfortunately, neither side appeared to leave contented.

“What continued to be brought up throughout the meeting was, fix broken systems, and not broken people, but I simply don’t see why we can’t do both? We do need to fix the system, I’m not disputing that, as it isn’t perfect. We can’t have a kid who lives in Rainier Beach, and is given a summons to a court out in Federal Way, and yet he has no transportation to get there so he ends up missing it. He then has a warrant issued for his arrest, and then he’s locked up in detention.” Said Balducci. “Are we where we want to be yet? No, but we can get there.”

Voices of the coalition against the prison contend that the county representatives at the meeting offered nothing but a flimsy wall of words in their defense of the facilities construction. “Ms. Balducci seemed like a nice woman, and at least she did get up and speak, which is more than I can say for the representative from Dow Constantine’s office. However, she’s the mayor of Bellevue. Why in the world is she even tasked with speaking to us? If the County had been earnest about getting actual community buy-in about  this project they would have had meetings like this before they sought to build the prison, not after. For such a large allocation of money, you would think that we’d have more serious discussions about it as an entire community, not just with so-called stakeholders that seem cherry picked by the county.” said Washington

One attendant at the meeting echoed the sentiment, “I speak to people and they literally thought that the levy was for parks or something. The lack of education about this issue is astounding, especially as dry as the money spigots appear to be in our area. The detention center needed to be renovated 15 years ago, so why are we fast tracking things now, with very limited discussion with the people, and the families who will directly be affected by this? Why didn’t they speak to a broad group of youth who had been incarcerated and who live in this area? I don’t want my son or daughter, preyed upon and locked up, so they can act as a return of investment on a youth prison.” Said Martin Friedman.
As more groups rally against the building of the facility, while the County simultaneously proceeds with their construction plans, one thing seems certain in all of the resultant murkiness, the discord over this issue remains quite far from over.