Attendees of a private event celebrating Irish heritage featuring Mayor Ed Murray lifted and carried out a woman protesting a youth detention facility proposed by King County and approved by the city of Seattle.
E. Rose Harriot, an activist involved in the opposition to the youth jail, was taken out of a lunch held at FX McRory’s in Pioneer Square after she and four other protesters interrupted Murray while he read a proclamation about Irish heritage.
Organizers were less than pleased.
“You’re disrespecting me,” said one person involved in the planning of the event, who seemed to see the protest more as a disruption of a private event than an act of civil disobedience.
Harriot and other protesters were there to communicate their opposition to a proposed youth detention facility that would replace the existing building at 12th Avenue and Alder Street in the Central District. The youth detention facility is part of a $210 million project that King County voters taxed themselves to pay for in 2012. It would include new courthouses, office space and room for diversion programs.
The project has come under fire from organizers who point out that the facility disproportionately jails children of color and would be built in a neighborhood that is historically diverse, but rapidly gentrifying.
The five protesters paid $30 each to gain access to the luncheon and were forced to leave after they held up signs and chanted during Murray’s speech. They joined protesters outside who stood on street corners near the restaurant handing out green leaflets explaining the controversy around the youth detention center and the history of oppression against the Irish people.
Irish identity is a big part of why Murray should oppose the youth jail, said Rick Derksen, an organizer with European Dissent, a White anti-racist organization that protested at the lunch. The Irish were long oppressed by the British and Americans before they assumed the identity of “White.” That means that Murray and others of Irish descent should be able to empathize with people of color who face discrimination and criminalization every day, Derksen said.
“We want to put pressure on Mayor Murray to stop this jail being built,” Derksen said.
Protesters gathered outside of the restaurant at 11 a.m., a half hour before the program was scheduled to start. They handed out fliers and sang protest songs, including Paul and Linda McCartney’s “Give Ireland Back to the Irish.” They sang the song twice, once with the adapted words, “Ed Murray, what are you doing?”
Opponents have been protesting the youth jail since Seattle voters approved the levy to fund it in August 2012. The election had low turnout, with just 40 percent of registered voters casting a ballot. The permission to grant a master use permit, the last step toward construction, was authorized on Dec. 22 by the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections. Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) appealed that decision, only to have their case dismissed by the hearing examiner in February.
Attorneys with Columbia Legal Services and the private firm Smith & Lowney will challenge that decision.
Hearing examiner dismisses appeal on youth jail, activists ask for reconsideration