Around 7 a.m. on Wednesday, community organizers woke up to Seattle Police officers pounding on the glass doors of the former home of Black Dot, a neighborhood business incubator and co-working space in MidTown Center. Eight organizers with community group Displacement Stops Here (DSH) and Omari Tahir-Garrett, a lifelong activist and controversial community figure, were escorted out of the building. Black Dot has since relocated to a space on 16th Avenue and Jackson Street.
The group had been staying overnight for about a month to preserve the space for the community, said Theo, a DSH organizer who wouldn’t give his last name. After the group was forced out of the building, the doors were then padlocked behind them, leaving them unable to retrieve personal items including house keys, wallets, and clothes.
“Our mission at this location was to fight displacement and erasure of the black community,” DSH representatives said in a statement. “We are committed to this fight, even in the face of hostility.”
In a media release, organizers described the incident as a “forced eviction,” but SPD officials disputed the categorization, saying that officers were investigating a criminal trespass issue. DSH organizers are now referring to the event as a police “raid.”
From their press release:
Seattle Police made themselves known by attempting to force their way in through a side-door without notice. Failing their initial entry, they regrouped at the front door and would not answer questions related to their attempted forced entry, and further questions escalated their response to a state where it was clear that they would use whatever force necessary to remove peaceful space holders. They came with no paperwork or notice to vacate the premises, and refused to review any evidence of tenancy or permission. They would not give us information about how to get additional belongings from the space. Property owners who were present during the raid refused to communicate about the personal belongings of the space holders. We have officially been locked out of the space that we have been holding for more than 4 weeks. Any accountability was completely disregarded.
DSH will hold a rally and press conference about the “raid” and ongoing gentrification in the Central District at 5 p.m. today.
Today’s events follow the March eviction of the Umojafest Peace Center, which stands on the back corner of the MidTown property at 24th Avenue and Spring Street. Tahir-Garrett, the center’s caretaker who had been living there, was also evicted.
The land MidTown Center stands on was bought by Paul Bangasser in 1941. Some of Bangasser’s children now manage the property through the Midtown Limited Partnership, which put the land up for sale for redevelopment in 2015. Tom Bangasser, one of Paul’s sons and former member of the partnership, has long advocated for the property to be sold to the Central District community. However, in 2015, according to the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog, Bangasser's "siblings voted to remove him as controlling member." The future of MidTown Center remains uncertain.
DSH organizers spent part of Wednesday afternoon making cardboard signs, some of which read “Black Communities Matter” and “STOP GENOCIDAL GENTRIFICATION.”
Theo, an organizer with DSH, said that there has been an overall lack of communication between community groups, MidTown’s landlords, and SPD.
“We have folks trying to work with us and folks trying to remove us,” he said. “There was no opportunity for communication with [SPD officers]. It was very ‘get in, get out.’”
Bangasser has advocated for the activists. “There’s obviously a huge divide in my family about how to run the property,” he said. “Using the police or using the sherriff, this is a great example of bully law.”
When asked whether Displacement Stops Here or another organization holds a lease for the business space, an organizer with the group wrote:
What we are doing is right, needed and draws a boundary. This is stolen duwamish land and tenancy is not the conversation. The conversation is the displacement, historical and present violation of rights and dignity. We are here to hold space for community to reclaim land.
The colonial system is violent and this is an anti colonial movement.
Given this statement, it could be assumed that DSH activists are occupying Black Dot’s former space as an act of civil disobedience against rapid gentrification in the Central District. The Stranger previously asked Black Dot co-founder K. Wyking Garrett to see a copy of the nonprofit’s lease, but was turned down.
Cliff Cawthon, an organizer with Standing Against Foreclosure and Eviction, put it this way: “What is sometimes legal is not always right.”
“I say that because, what these [organizers] are doing here, they were maintaining the property, they were having community gatherings,” he said. “After that controversy with Omari’s very unfortunate comments, they were welcoming in people of all different faiths, of all different communities to say ‘Hey, let’s have this conversation about how to make this space inclusive for everyone.’”