Seattle activists who oppose King County’s plan to build a new youth courthouse and jail are appealing a city-permitting decision.
“Progressiveness does not last through the winter here. It shrivels up.”
That was part of a poem teenager Azura Tyabji recited Wednesday as activists again rallied against King County’s plan to build a new youth jail in Seattle’s Central Area.
Standing on 12th Avenue East outside the county’s existing juvenile-detention center, they announced their appeal of a recent city-permitting decision, and touted community-based alternatives to incarceration, including restorative-justice programs.
Tyabji was reading a poem she said she had written the night before about the long-running battle over the project formally known as the Children and Family Justice Center.
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Voters approved a $210 million levy in 2012 to replace the county’s youth-detention center and dilapidated courthouse with new facilities.
The activists say the ballot measure was misleading. They contend local officials who claim to be champions of racial justice are wrong to perpetuate a system that locks up children and fails to rehabilitate them.
The county is detaining fewer youth than before, but black youth are much more likely to be detained than others.
“Hypocrisy is the foundation that Seattle builds itself on,” said Tyabji, a 16-year-old who lives in Rainier Beach and attends Nova High School.
The activists are appealing the city construction department’s Dec. 22 decision to approve the county’s request for a master-use permit. The decision came after a series of protests, including one outside Mayor Ed Murray’s house.
The mayor sought to distance himself from the issue last month, portraying the decision as technical rather than political. He said he was unable to intervene.
Murray spokesman Benton Strong stuck with that stance Wednesday. The mayor has no legal authority over the department’s permitting decisions, Strong said.
The appeal challenges the Dec. 22 decision on various technical points. For example, it says the project’s State Environmental Policy Act analysis was inadequate.
On Wednesday, the activists described their work as part of a wider effort to end youth incarceration.
Last year, they persuaded the City Council to allocate hundreds of thousands of dollars for community-led alternatives, such as arts-based leadership development.
“The folks here today are not just appealing a master-use permit on a brick and mortar building … We are combating racism,” Senait Brown of Ending the Prison Industrial Complex said, flanked by dozens of supporters.
The activists say nearly 70 local organizations have signed on to the appeal, including the Seattle King County NAACP. Ending the Prison Industrial Complex is the lead appellant.
The Seattle hearing examiner will handle the case.
Alexa Vaughn, a county spokeswoman, said 75 percent of the project’s $210 million would be used to build the new courthouse, which would house a resource center, day-care center, community conference room and confidential meeting spaces.
Vaughn said the county has begun using more diversion programs, including peacemaking circles.
Last month, a county spokesman noted that the new detention center would include an activity room dedicated to activities, such as yoga and improv-performance training.
The activists weren’t impressed.
“Seattle is the only place where white-supremacy manifests itself in improv-performance training in a youth prison,” Tyabji said in her poem.