Reagan Jackson reports for the Seattle Globalist:
“We was red lined in but now we black balled out so they can sell green… Ike is no uncle to me. How many brothers went to jail on this corner from moving dime bags. In a week he doing, what, a couple of hundred grand?”
Local rapper Draze’s mournful track “Irony on 23rd” has become an anthem for people in the Central District who view Uncle Ike’s, one of the city’s most popular legal pot shops, as a slap in the face.
Since it opened in late 2014 the store has been a source of controversy for the reasons Draze outlines so eloquently in the song — from community members feeling voiceless in the process of land development, to the unfairness of a wealthy white business owner profiting from doing the exact same thing that many poor people of color are still in jail for.
So today on 4/20, the pot smoker’s holiday, community members of plan to take their next stand against Uncle Ike’s Pot Shop.
The protest is planned to start at the Garfield Community Center at 3 p.m. and head to Uncle Ike's, on 23rd and Union Street. The Seattle-King County NAACP, Africatown, The Black Book Club, and Draze himself are organizing.
The Mount Calvary Christian Center, the church right next door to Uncle Ike's, is also participating.
The church sued the store and its owner, Ian Eisenberg, in 2014, alleging Uncle Ike's violated state law by locating too close to the church's teen center. Judges declined to grant a restraining order or injunction ahead of a full trial based on that claim, and the church withdrew the lawsuit months later. Reggie Witherspoon, the pastor, said it couldn't afford the legal costs.
Witherspoon told the Globalist:
He says he met with Mayor Ed Murray soon after he learned what Eisenberg was planning to do with the property, which had previously hosted a Mediterranean restaurant that closed after an arson in 2013.
“And I told the Mayor that if this were Magnolia and you were 250 feet away from those white kids in Magnolia, I don’t believe you’d allow the store to open up,” he says. In the end, he concludes, the city prioritized tax revenue over the well-being of the children.
Here's activist and NAACP Economic Chair Sheley Secrest explaining her reasons for the protest:
Today, in a characteristically blunt interview, Eisenberg said the protesters are full of shit. "They're protesting the proximity to the teen center, which has been litigated and adjudicated, and the court found that was okay," he said. "They just want a villain to put a face to their cause." (Full disclosure—I sometimes play soccer on a team with his wife.)
Referring to Secrest's video, Eisenberg said the idea that the community should have input on what kind of businesses open up is "really contrary to the civil rights movement... The whole point of civil rights is that they apply equally to everybody."
"In my opinion, gentrification isn't a bad thing, but displacement is. They're not synonymous," Eisenberg added. He agreed that low income people of color are being displaced from Seattle by rising housing costs into South King County. He thinks the solution lies in greater housing density (he liked the original report of the mayor's housing affordability committee, which recommended significant upzones throughout the city).
"I haven't displaced anybody," he said.
As for the "irony on 23rd," Eisenberg said: "I agree that it's horrible that people went to jail for pot. I've always been against pot prohibition." But he insisted there's little comparison between sanctioned sales and illicit street dealing.
Eisenberg is a classic neoliberal: He believes society advances through color-blind capitalism, markets, and laws. And he's right about the city's urgent need for dense housing.
But the racial history of that corner and the Central District—from criminal justice, housing, to education—didn't disappear when Washington legalized pot. Eisenberg is now a part of that racialized history, too, whether he likes it or not.
This post has been updated since its original publication.