No New Youth Jail! Seattle’s Anti-Racist Movement Pushes Forward

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On January  11, the #NoNewYouthJail movement came together outside of the site of Seattle’s proposed $210 million new juvenile detention facility to speak out against the city’s investment in the prison complex at the expense of restorative justice programs, schools, and social services. Dozens of community members gathered on Wednesday afternoon for a press conference led by community activists to call for community-based justice programs with zero jailing of youth.

The City of Seattle recently issued permits for construction to move ahead on the $210 million facility, despite the fact that in 2015, the City Council passed a resolution promising to oppose youth detention. Activists have sued the City, arguing that the city’s current youth jail needs less than $1 million in renovations. In 2014, Kshama Sawant was the only city councilmember to vote against the you jail.

As Senait Brown, an organizer with Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (E.P.I.C.), reminded the gathering, the #NoNewYouthJail movement is “not just opposing a permit for a brick and mortar building,” but taking a stand against the racist maintenance of a prison system that traps youth in a lifelong cycle of punishment and retribution instead of giving them the opportunity for restoration. [Brown] called out the hypocrisy of city government members whose commitments to racial justice didn’t last much longer than their electoral campaigns: “When you sit inside any political office, I don’t care if you’re Mayor Ed Murray, or Executive Dow Constantine… you are planning a trajectory for our children that means that them and their families will experience intergenerational poverty, will experience gentrification, will experience police brutality, will experience the school to prison pipeline, and nothing that you are doing is interrupting it.”

Other speakers pointed to Seattle’s prioritization of luxury real estate developments downtown while neglecting and allowing the gentrification of communities of color in the Central District and elsewhere. “The real enemy,” said Seattle activist “Coach” Dominique Davis, “is big business,” which profits from creating housing inaccessible to communities of color while making money from their incarceration.

“When looking at young people in the community,” Davis said, “We see someone who could be great. But big business just looks at them and sees profit.” Throughout the press conference, the speakers made it clear that the power to resist big business and mass incarceration will not come from legislative reforms or legal challenges but from the power of masses of people organizing themselves. “The system doesn’t run without us letting it run,” reminded Davis.

Socialist Alternative supports the mass struggle against racist policing and mass incarceration and remains steadfast in working to block the new youth jail. Experience in Seattle has shown that the fight against racist big business and corporate politicians requires building the largest possible fight back. Support the #NoNewYouthJails movement and join fight for a system that supports and restores marginalized communities and youth!

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