Seattle, WA — March 2, 2018
Youth Jail Opponents Shut Down 4th Avenue Outside County Administration: Activists Call on Dow Constantine to Immediately Halt Construction of New Youth Jail and Courts
What: Activists Locked Down Outside County Administration Building
Where: Fourth Avenue and James
When: 8:00 A.M.
Today, organizers supporting the No New Youth Jail Campaign shut down Fourth Avenue in front of the County Administration Building to demand Dow Constantine put an immediate stop to the unlawful construction of the new youth jail and courts. For the past five years, Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC), backed by 60+ grassroots organizations and faith communities, has been fighting a vital battle in the courts and on the streets to stop the construction of the youth jail and court complex, changing the conversation about youth imprisonment in the County, and pressuring the county to adopt a goal of zero detention for youth.
Today’s action follows the 2017 Court of Appeals ruling finding that King County has been unlawfully collecting property taxes for the proposed youth jail, a ruling that effectively eliminates the majority of the funding for the project. Following the ruling, without any alternative funding source in place, Dow Constantine, the King County Executive, broke ground on the $210 million project, effectively punching a hole in the County’s budget that puts at risk other vital county services.
The continued construction at the 12th and Alder site runs directly counter to Constantine’s stated commitment to zero detention for youth, instead committing the county to a building designed to cage youth for the next fifty years. According to Senait Brown, a lead organizer with EPIC and Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR), “This fight goes beyond the brick and mortar building. This is about fighting structural, systemic racism, and it has been about that from the beginning. We’re asking the county to really invest in the power and leadership of our young people and our communities. They need to let us build our own solutions.”
When the project was proposed in 2012, voters were led to believe that a new facility was necessary due to the “deterioration” of the current jail. However, as the current jail is only 25 years old, a facilities analysis conducted by the county itself showed that it is “generally in good condition.” Members of the NNYJ Coalition blocked the streets outside Constantine’s office today to demand that Dow and King County not spend one more penny on an unnecessary, harmful, and undeniably racist jail building project.
Organizers blasted the County’s misleading language and positive messaging surrounding the project, emphasizing that the construction of the facility would uphold racist systems and strengthen the school to prison pipeline. In the past 10 years King County has reduced youth detention by nearly 75%. However, despite making up only 10% of the King County population, more than 50% of incarcerated youth are black, and the planned facility holds more than double the number of cells currently in use, cells that will be filled with youth of color.
As Members of the No New Youth Jail Coalition, four anti-racist white collectives took participated in today’s sit-in, calling on fellow white community members to challenge their role in upholding a white supremacist system and to join the fight to deconstruct it. “As a King County Public Health employee, I have witnessed a hush hush culture when it comes to speaking out about the youth jail,” said Kelsen Caldwell, a lead organizer with the Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites. “This is a form of white silence and white violence. We need county employees to speak out and break this silence. I want to know how Dow Constantine can lead a County with an Equity and Social Justice Initiative, which leads with undoing racism, and simultaneously invest in building jails that we all know will disproportionately cage Black and Brown children. How is that equity or justice?”