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.
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.