Youth jail protesters block traffic in downtown Seattle

Article first appeared in 2 March 2018


A group of people protesting the construction of a new juvenile detention facility in Seattle blocked a busy downtown intersection Friday morning, snarling the morning commute as police worked to remove them.

Protesters began the day outside the King County Administration building at the southern end of the downtown core around 8 a.m. By the time the protest ended more than six hours later, they had moved north, with the last demonstration blocking the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Stewart Street.

In the middle of the morning commute, dozens of demonstrators from the No New Youth Jail Campaign sat or lay on the street outside the King County Administration building at the intersection of Fourth Avenue and James Street. Some locked arms inside pipes to prevent police from separating them. They held signs and banners bearing slogans like “No new youth jail,” “Stop caging kids,” and “Build homes, not jails!”

A Twitter video from KING-TV reporter Alex Rozier showed one frustrated driver slowly driving through a group of protesters. No injuries were evident.

Seattle police arrived on the scene and traffic was rerouted. Police briefly closed the James Street off-ramp from northbound Interstate 5.

The state Department of Transportation reported major traffic buildups on both I-5 and Interstate 90 as a result of the protest. King County Metro reported “significant delays” for buses.

The construction of a new youth court and detention facility has remained controversial well after King County voters approved a levy for its funding in 2012.

Construction on the new facility at 12th Avenue and Alder Street in Seattle’s Central District began over the summer. In September, though, a state appeals court ruled that the 2012 levy included flawed language that may have made it unclear to voters what the property-tax increase was funding.

King County said it would appeal to the state Supreme Court while construction, scheduled to be completed next year, continues.

Proponents say the $210 million Children and Family Justice Center is badly needed in order to replace the 25-year-old Youth Services Center, which they say has deteriorated over the years.

Last year, after continued criticism of the new facility, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced plans to create two “welcome centers,” with services and temporary housing to keep youth facing “homeless, family crisis, suspension or expulsion from school and other challenges” out of detention.

“This is the challenge: To travel together the long road toward our goal of zero youth detention,” Constantine said. “King County is united on pushing forward with the best ideas in juvenile justice reform.”

Opponents call the construction of the new facility “unlawful,” and argue that youth incarceration disproportionately targets children and families of color.

“This fight goes beyond the brick-and-mortar building,” activist Senait Brown said in a statement. “This is about fighting structural, systemic racism, and it has been about that from the beginning.”

In November, Constantine signed an executive order directing the county’s Public Health department to draft a proposal reorganizing juvenile detention services in order to “reduce traumatization of youth in detention, eliminate racial disparities in the juvenile justice system and advance the goal of zero youth detention.”