Seattle Police on Wednesday morning criminally trespassed a group of individuals that had been living for several weeks in the former Black Dot space at MidTown Center in the Central District.
Those people removed from the property were there in support of the group Displacement Stops Here.
“Folks holding space here did so by and for protection of a space central to the community here in the central district,” according to a news release from Displacement Stops Here a few hours after people were removed. “Our mission at this location was to fight displacement and erasure of the black community.” Scroll to the bottom of this story for video of the trespass being carried out.
Black Dot is a business incubator and economic center cofounded by K. Wyking Garrett, who is also CEO for the Africatown Community Land Trust.
Garrett said during a March 13 meeting in the Black Dot space at 23rd Avenue East and East Union Street that there had been an understanding that the organization, which provides technical assistance to African American-owned and operated businesses and microenterprises, could stay in the space until the 106,000-square-foot Midtown Center lot was sold and ready for redevelopment.
Midtown Center general partner Hugh Bangasser told the Capitol Hill Times on Wednesday afternoon that Black Dot at no time had a lease with Midtown Center, nor the previous lessee of that space. He added the former lessee vacated the space in January, and their attorney provided a legal statement that they had no affiliation or sublease agreement with Black Dot.
“We went to be in that space because we had given up other space we gave away to a new tenant,” Hugh Bangasser said, “and the property manager needed a new space.”
Since the initial process of vacating Black Dot from MidTown Center began in February, the business incubator has relocated to a space at 16th Avenue South and South Jackson Street.
Prior to police criminally trespassing people camped out in Black Dot — for more than four weeks, according to Displacement Stops Here — the locks had been changed.
Now that protesters have been removed, they have no means of reoccupying the space, said Seattle Police Lt. Grant Ballingham with the East Precinct. He said occupants did protest their removal, but did so peaceably.”
“They were compliant and cooperative, and they all left the premises without putting up any kind of resistance,” Ballingham said.
The Displacement Stops Here release states police entered the building and did not “provide paperwork or notice to vacate the premises” and “refused to review any evidence of tenancy or permission.”
Ballingham said the occupants had previously been provided with notice to vacate the premises.
“We were just there to enforce the trespass law,” he said, adding no arrests were made.
Roughly 50 people gathered in support of Displacement Stops Here Wednesday night at MidTown Center. People waved signs at passing traffic before a handful of speakers called for the need to stop displacement and for community involvement in new development in the neighborhood.
Also present during the criminal trespass was Omari Tahir-Garrett, who was evicted from a residential portion of the MidTown Center site at 24th Avenue East and Spring Street, known as the UmojaFest Peace Center, on March 15. This too resulted in protests as the King County Sheriff’s Office enforced the eviction of Tahir-Garrett, the property owners simultaneously carrying out a large-scale cleanup of the property.
Tahir-Garrett in mid-March 2016 invited former Nickelsville campers to set up on the property after they diassociated with the organization and were evicted from an area around South Dearborn Street to set up on the property. MidTown Center owners ended up signing contracts with the roughly 20 campers on Sept. 19. Each person was paid $400 to vacate the property and take their belongings, according to court documents.
Protesters and even Tom Bangasser, whose siblings voted him out two years ago as controlling member of MidTown Limited Partnership, have stated that the campers were told to leave garbage on the property by MidTown owners. Tom Bangasser said this had happened during testimony he was allowed to provide during eviction proceedings against Tahir-Garrett, according to court documents.
“That claim is absolutely false,” said Hugh Bangasser, adding there is no benefit for the property owners who had to pay for the cleanup.
Tahir-Garrett and all other occupants were permanently barred from the entire MidTown Center property following court proceedings on Feb. 24, according to court documents.
Prior to the judgement, Tahir-Garrett was held in contempt twice, first on Feb. 21, when court records state he entered a courtroom and disrupted an ongoing trial. Court records state Tahir-Garrett was held in contempt again on Feb. 23, after being escorted to the trial by King County Sheriff’s deputies. He challenged the court’s authority in the matter and accused it of racial biases.
“Mr. Tahir-Garrett continually talked over the Court, calling the Court and opposing counsel a variety of pejorative names,” according to the Feb. 24 judgment order. “Mr. Tahir-Garrett insisted that the relief of George Washington situated on the wall behind the bench be turned around because President Washington had owned slaves.”
Once the court announced Tahir-Garrett was being held in contempt, court documents state he “propelled himself to the floor, as if to give the appearance of unconsciousness.” He was then carried out of the courtroom to an aid car.
Hugh Bangasser said MidTown Center has filed another contempt motion due to Tahir-Garrett violating the court order by being inside Black Dot. He added MidTown Center Limited Partnership had offered Tahir-Garrett tenant assistance to relocate in late November 2015, “and he rejected it.” According to court documents, Tahir-Garrett had not been paying rent while living on the property.
Tahir-Garrett made headlines earlier this month when Uncle Ike’s pot shop owner Ian Eisenberg captured the elderly black man shouting at him to “go back to Germany” and “let those Nazis get on you again.” Eisenberg is Jewish, and the Central District had previously been a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. His legal weed shop has been the target of ongoing anti-gentrification protests in the Central District.
Eisenberg engaged protesters at one demonstration outside his shop on March 18, lunging at a protester carrying a microphone. Security intervened, as bike officers lined up in front of Eisenberg’s shop.
MidTown Center is the last corner of 23rd Avenue East and East Union Street to be redeveloped.
The last attempt at redevelopment, by Lennar Multifamily Communities and retail-focused partner Regency Centers, fizzled out when the developers reportedly could not get an extension on their contract with the Bangasser family.
Africatown had been brought on to that project to acquire 20 percent of the MidTown Center property for development focused on supporting black-owned businesses and the African-American history and culture of the neighborhood.
Forterra, a nonprofit that helps communities acquire property for preservation and restoration, had been working with Africatown on the project. When it was cancelled, Forterra and Africatown joined together and submitted a letter of interest to purchase the entire 2.4-acre site.
Hugh Bangasser told the Capitol Hill Times on Wednesday that there were sufficient votes within the family of owners to sell the property to a new developer, and that sale will be carried out pending completion of a purchase and sale agreement.
“We have a developer, we are under contract with a developer that we think is an experienced, qualified developer and would be a good neighbor for the community,” Hugh Bangasser said.
Facebook Live post by D.J. Martinez
Lizz Giordano contributed to this article.