Last weekend, Central District activist Omari Tahir-Garrett was caught on camera shouting anti-Semitic invective at the Jewish owner of Uncle Ike's on 23rd and Union. "Go back to Germany" and "let them Nazis get on you again," he told Ian Eisenberg, the founder of the pot shop that has become a flashpoint for neighborhood tension since it opened in 2014.
After we posted the video of Tahir-Garrett, Eisenberg sent us another disturbing clip from 2013, in which Tahir-Garrett says to an Asian worker, "How did you get over here? How did you get over here? Don't you have a country?... Go to Asia. This ain't Asia." Tahir-Garrett made these remarks after the worker, who appears to be of Asian descent, removed signs from the building that once housed Liberty Bank, Seattle's first black-owned bank. The former Liberty Bank building is on the same Central District block as Uncle Ike's.
That's not all. Tahir-Garrett's history with anti-Asian comments apparently stretches back to the last decade. Stranger commenter Inthe206 alerted us to an incident in 2007 in which Tahir-Garrett allegedly told Cheryl Chow, the late Chinese American School Board President, to "remember the Wah Mee Massacre," referring to a 1983 shooting at a Chinatown-International gambling club that lead to 13 deaths. (“I understood this to be a threat to my life, as well as to the lives of my fellow directors,” Chow later said in papers filed in Superior Court, according to The Seattle Times.)
Whether considered alone or taken together, these statements raise a challenge for Seattle's left. And while we kinda hate to say it, the Weekly nailed the local left's failure to rise to that challenge when it comes to Tahir-Garrett's statements over the weekend:
We must also be willing to call out hate. However, since the video was posted, public response has been largely muted, especially when compared to the unity displayed after the vandalism of Temple de Hirsch Sinai. Tahir-Garrett himself has been silent on the matter, and some affiliated with him have said they condemn the remarks, even as they attempt to wrap them in context that somehow forgives them. In particular, Tahir-Garrett’s son, Wyking—also a prominent activist—suggested his father’s comments could be used as a productive conversation-starter in Seattle. “We do not wish for the horrific acts that First Nations, Africans and others have suffered to befall others,” he said in a written statement, conspicuously avoiding any direct mention of the historical facts of the Holocaust. “We hope that those who are offended by the video feel just as compelled (if not more so) to respond to the offensive actions that are the gentrification and displacement of Seattle’s African-American community from the Central District.”
While we must own up to the harm done to the people Wyking references, it doesn’t change the fact that his response is an evasion. Yet it is still more commendable than the complete silence from politicians who have spoken out against hate in less complicated circumstances.
This morning, Sydney wrote at length on Twitter about that same silence. She's also received backlash for even daring to cover Tahir-Garrett's anti-Semitic statements.
Earlier this week, bc of what I wrote, an activist told me that I clearly didn't care about violence against marginalized communities.
— Sydney Brownstone (@sydbrownstone) April 6, 2017
Fuck. That. If you fuck up, you apologize. Own your shit. And move on. That's how we heal. Don't tell me to swallow my pain because...
— Sydney Brownstone (@sydbrownstone) April 6, 2017
Read here whole thread here.
We've asked all nine Seattle City Council members, as well as Mayor Ed Murray and Seattle Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, for comment on Tahir-Garrett's anti-Semitic and anti-Asian remarks. We'll post their responses as they roll in here:
Seattle City Council member Tim Burgess:
Mr. Tahir-Garrett’s statements are disgusting. There’s no place for that type of hate speech in Seattle.
Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant (Uncle Ike's is located in her district):
As socialists, we oppose all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, bigotry, xenophobia, and discrimination. We believe fighting racism and bigotry goes hand in hand with building solidarity on the basis of the unified interests shared by working people, such as the fight against gentrification to make Seattle affordable for all.
Seattle City Council member Rob Johnson:
Seattle will not be a place where children and their families live in fear. We do not tolerate hate speech or threats of violence. My colleagues and I will continue to work together to combat the fear and hatred spread through anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, anti-LGBTQ, anti-immigrant, and racist actions and uphold our values as a welcoming city and welcoming nation.
I believe that we can unequivocally condemn hate speech and violence while still acknowledging and respecting the very real concerns about displacement being expressed by the Central District community and the reasons for their protests.
Seattle Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal:
We must resist hate in all its forms wherever it appears. The anti-Semitic remarks directed at a Jewish business owner are abhorrent and unacceptable. Hate must be clearly condemned by all who care about racial and economic justice.
And here's another burst of tweets you should be reading on this, from Ijeoma Oluo:
@TheCliffC3 @sarahannelloyd @sydbrownstone @SAFEinSeattle How can we call for concern for our historical trauma & not recognize when a leader in our movement has traumatized others?
— Ijeoma Oluo (@IjeomaOluo) April 6, 2017