Seattle, WA – King County Executive Dow Constantine received a letter from the ACLU of Washington this morning regarding the County’s apparent practice of blocking emails sent by the No New Youth Jail Coalition to County employees that contain the phrases “no new youth jail” or “People’s Moratorium.” The letter (available here) was written by ACLU of Washington cooperating attorney, Venkat Balasubramani, who also submitted a related Public Records Act request (available here). No New Youth Jail Coalition members argue that the County’s apparent actions are only the latest in a pattern of attempting to repress public outcry about the controversial youth jail project. The No New Youth Jail Coalition has been part of a six-year fight against the $233 million project to build a new youth jail and court complex at 12th and Alder in Seattle. In March, the Coalition delivered a letter to Constantine outlining the widespread opposition to the project and demanding a moratorium on construction. When Constantine did not reply, the Coalition declared a “People’s Moratorium” and has engaged in sustained protest aimed at stopping construction and redirecting the resources for the project and the site itself toward unmet human needs rather than youth incarceration.
On a press call this morning, members of the No New Youth Jail Coalition explained the basis for their belief that the County is blocking their messages, and placed the County’s alleged actions in the broader context of the fight against the youth jail, including past efforts to stifle the Coalition’s work. ACLU attorneys discussed the First Amendment issues these actions may raise. “If King County is indeed blocking e-mails based on their content related to the youth jail fight, this would implicate the free speech rights of the No New Youth Jail Coalition. Courts have recognized that public email systems are subject to the First Amendment,” stated Venkat Balasubramani, ACLU cooperating attorney, and author of today’s letter to Constantine.
NNYJ Coalition member Andrea Marcos added, “We believe this abuse of power is an extension of Dow Constantine’s misguided attempt to control the narrative about the youth jail project. Despite his efforts, public dissent about a project that is precariously funded, racist, and misaligned with the County’s own goal of zero youth detention continues to grow.”
Dean Spade of the NNYJ Coalition stated, “We want answers from the County and are working with the ACLU of Washington to get them. We need public officials to be transparent, accessible, and rooted in integrity, but the County’s process of planning and building the youth jail has been everything but. From changing rules at County Council meetings to refusing a public debate, Dow has been unwilling to engage with community stakeholders at every turn.”