A group of No New Youth Jail protesters are lying down in the middle of 4th Street and James Ave.
A group of No New Youth Jail protesters are lying down in the middle of 4th Street and James Ave. SB

A group of protesters have blocked traffic downtown in protest of King County’s plan to replace its old youth detention center with a new facility.

Seven white protesters affiliated with the Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites (CARW) and European Dissent started lying down, locked together, in the intersection since 8 a.m. Alex Brott, 27, a spokesman with European Dissent, said that organizers of color have tried a variety of tactics—legal and otherwise—over the last six years to try and block the construction of the jail, but this effort targets King County Executive Dow Constantine directly. The protesters locked down today are demanding he use his executive power to cancel the project.

While detention of juveniles in King County has dropped precipitously over the last eight years, the racial disparity among those the county locks up has increased. In 2012, King County voters approved a $210 million tax levy to fund the construction of a new juvenile justice facility, including a jail that would hold 154 beds. Protesters with a group called the Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) opposed the construction of the new facility on the basis of the county's treatment of youth of color, and won some gains: In 2015, for example, King County officials agreed to reduce the number of beds from 154 to 114. County officials have since endorsed a longterm goal of "zero youth detention," while planning improvements in the Children and Family Justice Center that involve more services for families with juveniles in the system.

Nevertheless, activists opposed to the project have challenged the ballot language of the 2012 levy vote. Last September, a Thurston County appeals court partially overturned a lower court's ruling affirming the ballot language, finding that the 2012 language did not authorize the county to calculate its tax rate based on the increased tax rate in the first year of the levy. (What a mouthful.) King County has since appealed that decision to the state Supreme Court.

National non-profits like the Justice Policy Institute have urged municipal governments to stop focusing on the construction of new buildings, and instead invest in intermediate, community-based solutions. But while the county has endorsed zero youth detention as a long term goal and a "public health approach" to juvenile justice, King County Executive Dow Constantine, citing state law, has stood by the decision to rebuild and refurbish the detention center in the interim.

UPDATE 11:19 A.M:

The lockdown turned into a march and back into a lockdown.

High schoolers who are organizing their own gun control march joined the protest.

"Youth incarceration is part of the larger issue we’re trying to end against marginalized youth. That’s why we’re here, trying to support this movement as well and hoping to bring attention to the power of the youth," said Rhiannon Rasaretnam, 17, a student at Tahoma High School (left).