Seattle Activists Take The Streets On Annual MLK Day March

January 19th, 2015

Several thousand demonstrators took the streets of Seattle in a march in celebration of Martin Luther King Day. The event started at Garfield High School, and wound it’s way through Seattle, stopping at significant points along the way with speakers ranging from activists to Seattle City Council Members. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Seattle Council member Kshama Sawant, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, and musician Macklamore were seen in the crowd as they marched to the Federal Courthouse on Stewart and 7th Ave. A text was passed around that activists had locked themselves together on Hwy. 99/Aurora at Mercer St. for a solidarity action with Black Lives Matter activists. While the other group was on Aurora, another group made their way to I-5 and briefly shut it down. Those activists attempted to join the Aurora group but were blocked by Seattle Police until an alley was found and the demonstration briefly held up both lanes of traffic on Hwy.99/Aurora, before being forced to the side of the street by SPD. Multiple arrests and use of pepper spray were reported.

 From the event website:

“The 2015 Martin Luther King Jr. Day March begins at noon and proceeds from Garfield High School, 23rd & E Jefferson, Seattle, to the Federal Court House at 7th & Stewart, downtown Seattle.

The route is:  (minor modification posted 1/16/15) 23rd at Garfield, west on Jefferson to 12th; left on 12, past the Youth Detention Center, to Yesler; right on Yesler, past the Yesler Terrace construction project; right on Terrance (where Terrance, 4th & Yesler intersect), to 5th Avenue at the County jail; left on Columbia to 4th to Stewart; right on Stewart to the Federal Court House on 7th.

This route includes many locations of significance to Seattle justice activists:

Garfield High School is the home of an active Black Student Union, and the site of student-led participation in the Black Lives Matter movement protesting police violence against young black youth and men across the country.  The students led walk-outs from school that were nonviolent and self-disciplined in the tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr. The Youth Detention Center is a focus of controversy, where youth, especially youth of color, are channeled into the school-to-prison pipeline.  We need more money spent in the areas that will help our youth become productive members of society:  housing, health care, education, nutrition, access to living-wage jobs, nstead of criminalizing our youth and spending money on imprisoning them. Yesler Terrace is Seattle’s oldest public housing community, with about 1200 residents.  A majority of these residents are African Americans and African immigrants.  The community currently houses low income people who are about to be displaced by “redevelopment.”  Hundreds of low income units will be replaced by middle to high income housing and commercial spaces, thus adding to the critical shortage of low income housing in Seattle.  In addition,  the hiring practices on the construction project for the redevelopment to not meet standards for minority contractors or workers.  Communities of color are very poorly represented on the job.  The County Jail – as most jails and prisons in the country- has an over-representation of People of Color and poor people.  These include people awaiting trial who are unable to raise bail.  African Americans are overrepresented at all stages of proceedings from stop and search to sentencing.  Why are we willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars per year to house prisoners, but so little to house and educate our youth? Seattle Police Headquarters is a focus of the march, as we protest unnecessary violence including killings by the police both in Seattle and across the nation.  Young black men, often unarmed, and sometimes mentally ill, are killed by police in our country on average every 28 hours.  Seattle police have used violence against youth stopped for minor infractions, have used racist language, Have assaulted handcuffed people in police custody, and have escalated situations to violence on many occasions. The Federal Courthouse represents a system of courts with another chance for accountability when local courts do not come through.  For example, in the case of the killing of unarmed youth Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the police officer was not indicted.  The Federal judicial system could consider the facts and decide to charge the officer with violation of Mike Brown’s civil rights.” –

The press statement from the group blocking traffic on Hwy.99/Aurora…


Today, we have decided to engage in civil disobedience, putting our bodies in the street for four hours and twenty-eight minutes. We do this to represent the 4.5 hours Mike Brown was left in the street after being killed by a police officer. We do this to challenge a reality where every 28 hours a Black person is killed by the police, security, or vigilantes. We are responding to the call from Black leaders, locally and nationally, to show up in solidarity and disrupt business as usual. We wish to lift up the demands issued out of Ferguson:

We are a group of white people, primarily Jews and queers, calling on our communities to stop and take note of the constant and devastating injustices committed by white supremacy. As white folks participating in direct action and nonviolent civil disobedience, our privilege affords us more safety than Black folks and folks of color exercising the same rights. We recognize that white folks taking political action is seen as more palatable, visible, or admirable. We urge white people to step up but not over and to center Black leadership and liberation.

This country was founded on and continues to operate on the oppression, exploitation, criminalization, and murder of Black and Brown communities. And yet, those of us with privilege are able to keep moving, keep riding, keep driving, and therefore continue our complicity in systems of oppression. Today we stop – in order to start moving towards justice, following the direction of Black-led movements.

Today, Black leaders are reclaiming Martin Luther King Jr. Day as more than a state-sanctioned day of service or day off school, and rather, a day to demand revolutionary change. We show up today to heed the call from Black leadership to interrupt our daily complicity, to honor the lives of Black folks killed by a racist police state and assert that Black Lives Matter. On this MLK Day, we witness the deep historical legacies of this ongoing struggle and refuse to let it be sanitized by a history book or a federal holiday. On this MLK Day, we are moved by Dr. King’s instruction to dismantle the “operations of an oppressive society”.


We Want an End to all Forms of Discrimination and the Full Recognition of our Human Rights

We Want An Immediate End To Police Brutality And the Murder Of Black, Brown & All Oppressed People

We Want Full Employment For Our People

We Want Decent Housing Fit For The Shelter Of Human Beings
We Want an End to the School to Prison Pipeline & Quality Education for All

We Want Freedom from Mass Incarceration and an End to the Prison Industrial Complex


  1. The De-militarization of Local Law Enforcement across the country
  2. A Comprehensive Review of systemic abuses by local police departments, including the publication of data relating to racially biased policing, and the development of best practices.
  3. Repurposing of law enforcement funds to support community based alternatives to incarceration and the conditioning of DOJ funding on the ending of discriminatory policing and the adoption of  DOJ  best practices
  4. A Congressional Hearing investigating the criminalization of communities of color, racial profiling, police abuses and torture by law enforcement
  5. Support the Passage of the End Racial Profiling Act
  6. The Obama Administration develops, legislates and enacts a
National Plan of Action for Racial Justice


LOCALLY: In Seattle, John T. Williams and many others have lost their lives to police brutality in the street, on the light rail, and in the public sphere. On June 30, 2014, at the SODO light rail station, Oscar Perez Giron, 23, was shot to death by King County Sheriff Deputy Malcolm Elliott over a $2.50 train fare.

A 2011 investigation by the Department of Justice “engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force that violates the Constitution and federal law.” The DOJ also said that its investigation “raised serious concerns” that some policies of the police department “could result in discriminatory policing… When Seattle police officers used force, they did so in an unconstitutional manner nearly 20 percent of the time,” the DOJ said. Despite its language of racial equity, Seattle Public Schools is under federal investigation for the staggering rates at which it disciplines and expels Black students. Related: Black youth make up 8 percent of the juvenile population in Washington, but 42 percent of the youth sentenced to detention.

We lift up the demands of local Black-led movements like Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR) and End the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC)’s No New Youth Jail Campaign to oppose King County’s proposed $210 million “Children and Family Justice Center”. We demand King County work with those most affected by youth incarceration to create an alternative plan grounded in racial justice analysis and transformative community-based approaches. What if the $1.6 million in overtime that SPD has spent responding to protests from mid-November through December 16 was instead invested in Black communities?

To the SPD, to the Downtown Business Association, to those whose days are inconvenienced by our brief presence here, we remind you that the combination of anti-Black police brutality, disproportionate disciplining of Black youth by Seattle Public Schools, and rampant gentrification of historically Black neighborhoods has also been “disruptive” to Black communities in Seattle. Until Seattle and its police department stop brutalizing Black and Brown lives, allies will continue to engage in civil disobedience, and we will stand vocally and visibly in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.”

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