Rampant Radicals: Olivia Smith

This article appeared first in the April 25th 2018 issue of Real Change

Olivia Smith, photo by Jon Williams
Olivia Smith, photo by Jon Williams

Seattle-born Olivia Smith only recently entered the organizing scene, but she has done a lot in the last few years. While in college, she joined the Black Lives Matter movement, which forced her to confront her biracial identity and the functions of systemic racism. She is a former organizer for the Transit Riders Union and now works closely with Youth Undoing Institutional Racism.

Can you describe the work you’ve been doing with No New Youth Jail movement?
We’re protesting the building of a new King County youth jail. There was a tax levy passed on the ballot to fund the new facility in 2012, but it was called “Youth and Justice Family Center.” A lot of the wording was misleading, and there was no mention of incarceration in the ballot measure. In fall 2017, the Court of Appeals ruled that the county has been using illegal property taxes to fund it. By the time this lawsuit finishes going through the courts, the building could potentially be already completed. King County could be $180 million short of finishing the contracts, which means that money would have to come from the general fund and cut all sorts of human services, transportation and housing. And they’re selling off extra land on that plot to developers who donate to Dow Constantine’s campaign. He’s really the main target because he’s the one person who has the power to stop it right now. We’re calling for a people’s moratorium, for them to stop building right now until there’s time for the lawsuits to play out and community input on what we should be investing our money into, like anti-racist alternatives to incarceration. We know this is an extension of mass incarceration and the jailing of Black and Brown people. This is a prison abolitionist movement that also aims to build people power.

What connections do you see between No New Youth Jail and displacement and homelessness struggles?
There’s all sorts of resources being put in the wrong places. I keep saying the foundation for the new [youth jail] building looks like a beautiful affordable housing project. They could just turn it into that whenever they want. And the jail is being built in the historically Black neighborhood in Seattle — the Central District — which is already being gentrified. The land they’re selling off is going to private developers. And kids who go to prison are less likely to graduate from college and more likely to return to prison later in life so it’s continuing the cycle of pushing people out to the margins and into the shadows.

What is the best way to sustain a movement and make change for people most impacted?
This campaign has been going on for more than six years, since before the ballot initiative in 2012, and it’s mostly been led by Youth Undoing Institutional Racism […] which is affiliated with the People’s Institute Northwest. The two Black men who created People’s Institute noticed that three things were missing from the trainings they went to: strong knowledge of history, sharing of culture, and talk about undoing racism. I believe those principles are really necessary to sustain a movement. Culture … being able to see people for who they are and their full humanity. History because all of this is a pattern and we need to see it in order to stop it. And undoing racism … I’ve heard that racism is the single biggest barrier to keeping movements sustainable. It’s true. So that’s a No. 1 thing. I will say that since No New Youth Jail has been rebooted, it hasn’t been predominantly Black or POC, and that’s kind of intentional … Black organizers are gassed out and have been doing this work for the last six years. They have built all these connections and need [White] people to carry on this torch, especially the direct action and the physically and emotionally stressful pieces.

Do you think that Seattle is a place where we can have sustainable movements right now, based on your experiences?
I want to believe that sustainable movements can happen everywhere. But what I’ve seen in the last few weeks with No New Youth Jail has been very exciting, very beautiful connections being made. Art has been a big center in this, which is very important. People have gotten together to make banners and signs, and we’ve made space for performances like music and poetry. That’s a big piece to keeping it sustainable. But a lot needs to change. A lot more people need to get involved and we need to get people on the same page about our history … about how these systems work together to keep the status quo in place. People want to believe that everything is a single issue, but we have to realize that it’s all connected before any change can happen.

A priest, a rabbi and a Quaker locked into a bar…

This article originally appeared in the April 25th 2018 issue of Real Change Newspaper

And promptly get arrested.

Members of Seattle’s faith community were arrested Friday after locking themselves to steel beams to protest the construction of a new youth detention facility.

The action marks the fourth week of People’s Moratorium protests targeting the Children and Family Justice Center, a complex of courts and detention meant to replace existing facilities at 12th Avenue and East Alder Street in the Central District.

The No New Youth Jail Coalition has been opposing the facility for more than five years. They say it’s wrong to spend more than $210 million to build a detention center that disproportionately jails children of color in the middle of a neighborhood that was historically dominated by people of color as a result of racist redlining policies.

Friday’s action was just one avenue that the coalition has used to fight the project. Coalition members have successfully sued to challenge the source of funding for the project, a decision that is on appeal.

A New Youth Jail Would Be a Public Health Problem

King County claims a new youth jail would improve public health. Experts in the field strongly disagree.

By  and 

Originally published in the Seattle Weekly

Public health, or what we as a society do collectively to assure the conditions for people to be healthy, is an exemplary framework for approaching the issue of youth detention. Although certain executives would have you believe otherwise, constructing a new youth jail is not—in any sense—a public health approach. As public health professionals, we can assure you that investing in community-owned options based on reduction, reformation, replacement, and reinvestment, is the real public health approach.

King County Executive Dow Constantine recently moved oversight of his new $210 million youth jail to Public Health – Seattle & King County, stating, “By using a Public Health model, we will be able to do more. This is not just about services for youth while in detention, but changing policies and systems to keep youth from returning to detention, and avoid having contact in the justice system in the first place.”

Dow’s statement comes years after we have already seen effective health equity and community-based public health practice modeled by the same anti-racist community organizers who’ve been pushing to defund the new youth jail (and receiving push-back for it). They want to abolish a model that neither promotes health and well-being, nor “rehabilitates” children. If Dow and the County are now advocating for public health, they need to follow the lead of the community and divest from models that simply don’t work.

Detention does not make youth or communities healthier: youth who’ve been detained have a three-times higher risk of disease, disability, social problems, cognitive impairment, and early death than non-detained youth. Detention also destroys youth’s ties to supportive adults, who serve as critical determinant of life-long health and help prevent childhood trauma. Strong social supports can also reduce the rates of diabetes, heart disease, and asthma. Black, brown, and Native communities disproportionately suffer from these diseases, just as they experience higher rates of incarceration here in King County. Youth jails perpetuate these racial health inequities.

A recent Harvard Kennedy School study outlines a 4-point plan for a true public health approach to youth detention: reduce, reform, replace, and reinvest.

Reduce: We can start addressing youth detention by enacting statutes that limit categories of youth who are charged with detention center placement. California and Texas limited youth corrections and reallocated savings to counties for community-based juvenile justice options—both states experienced marked declines in youth incarceration and offending.

Reform: We can reach King County’s goal of zero-youth detention if we transform culture, structure, and decision-making processes to enable the entire justice system to focus on achieving positive outcomes for every youth. Programmatic and practice reforms, such as expanding dispositional options (especially community-based, family-centered programs), would ensure youth are matched to the best services available, including diverting them when no formal court procedure is necessary.

Replace & Reinvest: Do away with the youth detention center and give youth voices in their own treatment options to inform general policy and practice. Youth Undoing Institutional Racism and Ending the Prison Industrial Complex have shared this message in King County for almost a decade. Reinvestment from facilities and keeping more youth at home while using healthier approaches will save dollars that can be invested where it really counts – in black, brown, and Native communities.

As the Harvard study states: “Seldom in American policy are incentives and imperatives so closely aligned — youth development, fiscal prudence, and community safety would be far better served by closing every last youth prison and replacing these factories of failure with pathways to success for all youth.”

This, this is a public health approach to juvenile justice.

Dow, if you truly stand for zero-youth detention, you need to take part in undoing this system. You need to undo your jail.

Omid Bagheri and Anne K. Althauser are organizers with No New Youth Jail Coalition. Bagheri serves as faculty at UW School of Public Health, and Althauser earned her Master’s in Public Health from UW.

Protest Today

Bring your people, bring your signs, bring your messages for Dow to release protestors immediately and halt construction on the youth jail! See you at the adult jail, 5th and James! #PeoplesMoratorium #NoNewYouthJail
**Update*** Rev. Beth was arrested and is being held at King County Jail, along with 8 other protesters. Head down to 5th and James to demand their release! Meet Rev. Beth Chronister, one of the clergy members locked down today to demand #NoNewYouthJail “As a Unitarian Universalist, I believe that every person has inherent worth and dignity. Essentially, all are sacred and worthy. Building a youth jail to lock up children who are often the most affected by systemic injustice denies the inherent worth and dignity of these children at a critical juncture in their life and development. In the words of Bryan Stevenson, “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” Alongside this, it is important to remember the vast majority of the kids locked up at 12th and Alder are being detained for very minor acts. My faith calls me to be in solidarity with those who would be cast out by society and to act against structures that deny people the possibility of returning to love, belonging, and the healing that is possible only within community. peace, Rev. Beth Chronister Minister of Social Justice and Care University Unitarian Church”


Meet Rev. Darrell Goodwin, Liberation United Church of Christ, another faith leader who is calling for #NoNewYouthJail “When scripture describes Jesus’ role on earth, it states that, he specifically ‘will set those who are captive free’. As a follower of Jesus and a Pastor, supporting a new institution built with intent to hold captive our youths’ future, their dreams, and their possibilities it is antithetical to my faith and so I’m compelled to block it by any means necessary.”
Meet Anne Jenny, Commissioned Minister for Transformative Justice, Northshore United Church of Christ and one the clergy members arrested today.
Meet Anne Jenny, Commissioned Minister for Transformative Justice, Northshore United Church of Christ and one the clergy members arrested today. “I am here because as a teen I would have been classified as an ‘at risk youth’. I managed to avoid becoming entangled in the juvenile justice system only because of the role that white privilege has played in my life. Thanks to the GI Bill I was able to attend college earning a degree in economics and math. Systemic racism is clearly evident in almost every economic study I’ve done. Retributive justice results in very little gain to the victim for remarkably high costs to the community and at a glacially slow pace. Restorative practices allow full participation by the victim who is able to address fears and concerns directly. Cost benefit analysis shows far more positive outcomes for significantly less cost. The bottom line is that caging kids is expensive now and will only escalate future costs for all of us. Sadly, the greatest burden of those costs will be borne by communities of color.”


Meet Rabbi David Basior, Kadima Reconstructionist Community, another faith leader protesting today at the youth jail.
“As a member of a multiracial Jewish community that considers itself in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, I am outright against the investment of our city, county, state, or federal dollars in prisons which clearly disproportionately cage People of Color – particularly Black and Native people. The Talmud calls captivity worse than starvation or death. Today I stand in solidarity both with my ancestors and with my contemporaries from the People’s Moratorium, praying that County Executive Constantine’s heart no longer be hardened. May he stop construction and funding of the jail and instead fund housing and healthcare in our community.” #PeoplesMoratorium #NoNewYouthJail
Meet Jed Walsh, University Friends Meeting, and one of the people of faith locked down and arrested this morning while demanding @executivehonor Dow Constantine honor the #PeoplesMoratorium and stop construction now! #NoNewYouthJail “As a Quaker, I come from a faith tradition with a history of witnessing against injustice, violence, and white supremacy, all of which are roots of the prison system and Seattle’s new youth jail. I am here to demand that King County stop construction of the new youth jail immediately and re-purpose the site to meet people’s basic needs. We must end the systems that punish and harm our young people: instead, let us collectively build communities of healing, justice, and care.” Come join us at the adult jail at 5th and James to support Jed and others arrested.
CALL OSHA NOW: (206) 515-2821 to report unsafe working conditions. script: “I am calling to report a safety violation putting workers and protestors at IMMEDIATE risk. Protestors are locked down at a work site at 14th and e Alder in Seattle, where a new youth jail is being constructed, and work is continuing, endangering workers and protestors. This is against safety regulations.” Once you’ve called OSHA, call Dow’s office! (206) 271-1832 Please tweet, tag, post: @kcexec values quick construction of the youth jail over the safety of workers and community members. Has begun work on site despite presence of protesters, against safety regulations. #NoNewYouthJail #PeoplesMoratorium #WheresDow

9 arrested as clergy members stage protest, halt construction at new youth jail

Article originally appears on komonews.com 20 April 2018

SEATTLE – Seattle police broke up a protest of clergy opposed to a new King County youth jail on Friday morning and made nine arrests.

Some protesters locked themselves to steel beams at the construction site, bringing work to a halt there.

Police said it was the first time that protesters, who have been demonstrating against the youth jail for months, entered the construction site with the intent to stop work.

Police said officers tried to negotiate with the 35 or so protesters and made two orders to disperse.

“The protesters made it clear that they intended to be arrested rather than leave the construction site interior and away from the construction entrance,” police said.

Police arrested three men and three women who were blocking the entrance to the construction site and three women who were on the construction site.

It was the latest protest against the new $210 million youth justice complex.

The clergy members locked themselves to the beams with so-called “sleeping dragons” – lengths of pipe covering handcuffs. Other protesters gathered on the sidewalk on 14th Avenue, holding signs and surrounded by an altar, banners, and candles.

The protesters, with the No New Youth Jail Campaign, are demanding that King County Executive Dow Constantine put an immediate stop to the construction of the new $210 million youth justice complex.

“We’re praying for Dow to embrace his humanity and end a project that will bring harm and trauma to our communities,” said Dean Spade, one of the protest organizers.

Several of the faith leaders at Friday’s protest action issued statements in opposition to the new youth jail.

The Rev. Beth Chronister of the University Unitarian Church, said, “Building a youth jail to lock up children who are often the most affected by systemic injustice denies the inherent worth and dignity of these children at a critical juncture in their life and development.”

The Rev. Darrell Goodwin of the Liberation United Church of Christ, said, “As a follower of Jesus and a pastor, supporting a new institution built with intent to hold captive our youths’ future, their dreams and their possibilities it is antithetical to my faith and so I’m compelled to block it by any means necessary.”

“We can, together, imagine no cages, no prisons for our youth,” said the Rev. Angela Yingof the Bethany United Church of Christ.

In earlier protests, opponents of the new youth jail have blocked downtown streets and entrances to the construction site.

9 arrested during protest at new King County Youth Detention Center construction site

Article originally appeared on q13fox, 3:36pm 20 April 2018

SEATTLE — Nine demonstrators who tried to block construction activity at the site of a new $210 million juvenile justice complex were arrested Friday, Seattle police said.

“Three adult women [sic] had breached a security fence and entered the construction site” at 14th Avenue East and East Remington Court, police said in a news release. “The women [sic] were chained together and refused to leave when asked. This is the first time that protesters entered the construction site with intent to disrupt planned construction activity.”

In addition to those arrests, three women and three men who were blocking the entrance to the construction site were also taken into custody and booked into the King County Jail.

Friday’s protest was part of ongoing opposition to the new King County youth jail and court complex.

Organizers with the No New Youth Jail Coalition want King County Executive Dow Constantine to halt construction and to put more resources toward providing social services for young people rather than locking them up.

Police arrest protesters at construction site of future youth jail in Seattle

Article originally appears on seattletimes.com 09:19am 20 April 2018, updated again 2:36pm

Several protesters were arrested Friday morning at the site of King County’s new youth jail, under construction in Seattle’s Central Area.

The demonstration began before sunrise when three people linked their arms inside of piping and sat in folding chairs inside the fenced construction site while dozens of activists and members of the clergy gathered on the sidewalk near the three, singing and speaking about a future with no jails at all.

“We do not need to be spending more than $200 million on a jail that doesn’t address the root problems that actually lead youth to be incarcerated,” said one speaker who would identify himself simply as Robert.

Another speaker said that it was outrageous to be jailing kids when the real dangers to society are “bankers, cops, politicians and soldiers.”

Seattle police also gathered at the construction site and eventually ordered the protesters who were sitting or standing on the site or in its driveway to disperse or risk arrest. Protesters on the public sidewalk were told they could stay.

By 10:30 a.m., nine people had been arrested — six protesters who had been blocking the driveway and the trio who had linked arms in a technique the police call the “sleeping dragon.” They were unlinked from each other by a special police team, handcuffed and placed into a second police van.

People shouted “We love you!” as one woman was walked from the site to the van.

Protester Kelsen Caldwell, who took a vacation day to join the demonstration, said the new jail was “all about caging our young people and traumatizing our young people.”

“Cushier beds doesn’t mean that jail is less traumatizing,” Caldwell said. “The whole system is traumatizing and we need to depart from the whole system.”


The protest was the latest attempt by the No New Youth Jail campaign to stop construction of the more than $200 million juvenile detention center. Early last month, protesters blocked busy intersections throughout downtown Seattle; in late March, protesters formed human barricades at the construction site, blocking some shipments of supplies; this month, protesters interrupted King County Executive Dow Constantine’s State of the County address, forcing him to cancel it and post a prepared version online.

[Related: On the latest The Overcast podcast, Seattle U law professor Dean Spade explains opposition to the new youth jail.]

As cranes continued to move supplies around the large site, at 14th Avenue and East Remington Court, the protesters urged supporters to call the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and report what they call safety violations.


Although the protest may have prevented workers from laboring where the protesters were chained together, a foreman said it didn’t prevent work from happening in other parts of the site.

County voters in 2012 approved a $210 million levy to pay for a replacement for the existing juvenile-justice complex at 12th Avenue and East Alder Street in Seattle’s Central Area. Of that, $40 million will go toward building the detention portion of the Children and Family Justice Center, while the remainder of the money will go toward funding courtrooms and community resources, according to a spokesman for King County Executive Dow Constantine.

A  group called Ending the Prison Industrial Complex, known as EPIC, however, sued King County and the courts determined that voters were provided with flawed language when they approved the ballot measure and that, therefore, they had actually authorized collecting property taxes for the project for only one year.

King County said the decision was a “technical ruling regarding the method for levy collection” and has said it will ask the state’s Supreme Court to review an appeals-court determination.

Protesters arrested after clergy chain themselves at site of Seattle’s new youth jail

Article originally appeared on kiro7.com 20 April 2018, 12:02pm, last update 10:24pm

Click here to watch KIRO 7’s video.

By: KIRO 7 News Staff

SEATTLE – Clergy members and others who chained themselves to steel beams at the construction site for a new youth jail in Seattle were arrested Friday morning.

Supporters of the movement gathered on the sidewalk where an altar, banners, and candles were placed.

“Those of us here today share a moral vision for the county to shift away from building infrastructure that creates misery and trauma, and toward spending on basic human needs like housing and healthcare,” stated Dean Spade, member of the No New Youth Jail Coalition.

KIRO 7 Reporter Rob Munoz was at the scene as protesters encouraged each other to call Constantine’s office to complain that having workers at the site while protesters were there constituted Occupational Safety Hazard Administration violations for unsafe workplace practices.

When officials came to the site to investigate, they determined the protesters were creating a dangerous work site environment.  That led to Seattle police officers ordering the group to disperse.  When the group refused to leave, arrests were made.

Last month, supporters of the campaign closed an intersection Fourth Avenue and James Street in front Constantine’s office.  Five of them were locked together, with their arms inside metal tubes.

They then marched through downtown Seattle.  Traffic officials were forced to close streets, which clogged I-5 and I-90.

The protesters gathered at the site near 14th and Alder at about 8 a.m.

They’re demanding that King County Executive Dow Constantine halt construction.

The county says a new youth jail is desperately needed because the current facility is deteriorating.

But activists say the current jail is only 25 years old and that a county analysis of the facility said it was “generally in good condition.”

They say the construction is an “unnecessary, harmful, and undeniably racist jail building project,” reasoning that youth jails disproportionately affect black children.

The group offers no alternative to a youth detention center. It only says it wants to “change the conversation about youth imprisonment” and wants the county to adopt a goal of zero detention young people.