(Seattle MLK Day Marchers - Photo by Mark Taylor-Canfield)
On January 19, marchers took to the streets in Seattle to mark the city's 33rd annual Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration. Organizers promoted the event as "one of the largest annual Martin Luther King Day Celebrations in the U.S."
This year's official MLK march reflected a growing movement in the US. It was a protest against racism, injustice and police brutality. March organizers and speakers referred to recent mass protests in Ferguson, Missouri and dozens of other cities - demonstrations which were organized in response to the shootings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and other young black men by police officers.
Seattle's own recent history includes a US Department of Justice review of the SPD which found a practice and policy of the use of excessive force. (http://www.justice.gov/...)
After the shooting deaths of African American men and a Native American woodcarver named John T. Williams, dozens of local community and civil rights groups demanded investigations into allegations of police brutality and racial profiling by SPD officers. (http://www.seattlepi.com/...)
Community leaders have called for more citizen oversight of the local police.
The Seattle MLK Celebration Committee's website quotes Dr. King:
"Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for human rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in."
The committee also stressed Dr. King's commitment to education and non-violence.
Thousands gathered in the morning at Garfield High School in the Central District for a traditional day of workshops and a rally.
The community workshops addressed racism, police violence, affordable housing, immigration rights, civil rights and other social justice issues. A meeting was held to discuss the creation of an African American political action committee.
The Seattle MLK Celebration Committee (http://www.mlkseattle.org/...) chose the theme "Fight For Your Rights!" for this year's march. (http://www.mlkseattle.org/...)
A choir performed at the beginning of the 10 AM rally. Moderators Shaude Moore & Khaim Vassar welcomed the participants, followed by an invocation by Rev. Harriett Walden, founder Mothers for Police Accountability.(http://www.mothersagainstpolicebrutality.com)
Local community religious leaders were on hand to support the day of events.
LaShaunya Cee O'Cain sang "Lift Every Voice", known as the Black National Anthem.
Martin Luther King, Jr. County Council member Larry Gossett, former Chair of the MLK Celebration Committee, gave a presentation on the history of the Seattle MLK Celebration.
Youth protesters were honored and rally speakers included Louis Watanabe and Ferguson, Missouri resident Jelani Brown. The Chairman of the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs, Oscar Eason (http://caa.wa.gov/...), also addressed the crowd, followed by a benediction delivered by Charles Oliver.
During preparations for the noon march, music and entertainment was provided by Alex Enger, Alex Gonzalez, and Gabriel Teodros. Speakers Sheley Secrest and Darryl Johnson addressed the marchers outside Garfiied High School.
Along the march route, Senait Brown and Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant (http://www.seattle.gov/...) gave speeches at a youth detention center.
Pastor Riki Wells spoke at the King County Jail.
King County NAACP President Gerald Hankerson addressed the marchers outside Seattle Police headquarters. Aaron Bossett addressed economic injustice at a Yesler Terrace construction site.
The long line of marchers made their way into downtown Seattle escorted by Seattle police on bicycles and motorbikes. The demonstrators held signs with images of Dr. King while they chanted anti-police brutality and anti-racism slogans.
The marchers converged on the Federal Courthouse around 2PM, where spoken words artists Celestine Ezinkwo (http://cryout.net), Christopher Robinson, Mike Davis, Derrick White, and poet Nikkita Oliver performed on a portable stage set up on a flatbed truck. Washington Middle School Vice Principal Tia Yarborough also performed spoken word.
Speakers at this rally included Claude Burfect, Sarah Scott, Linda Johnson, Jose' Selgado, Juan Jose' Bocanegra and Seattle public school teacher Jesse Hagopian.
Hagopian told the rally participants, "We know that Martin Luther King would have been out in the streets with the protesters in Ferguson taking the rubber bullets."
The Garfield High School teacher continued, "Martin Luther King's legacy is one of direct action - of confrontation against injustice, a man who was arrested over 30 times facing down this racist system."
Hagopian referred to the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri as a "lynching".
He criticized Missouri Governor Jay Nixon for invoking the name of MLK during the US national holiday honoring the civil rights leader's birthday. (http://abcnews.go.com/...)
"The man who sent in the National Guard to put down the protests in Ferguson."
Hagopian was also critical of Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson (http://www.nbcnews.com/...) for speaking in honor of MLK while "ignoring the reality of what he stood for."
A man named Anthony also spoke and the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority were represented.
Ron Johnson, a former member of the Black Panthers, read excerpts from Dr. King's
"I Have A Dream Speech" to an appreciative crowd gathered outside the courthouse.
Around 2:30PM an independent group of marchers began acts of civil disobedience. They blockaded Highway 99 in the heart of downtown Seattle. Traffic blockages by protesters continued at that location and near Interstate Five at Mercer Street for several hours.
At one point, commuters began to climb out of their cars and take photos and video with their smart phones. Some of the drivers began to climb onto
the roofs of their vehicles in order to get a better look at the protest.
Seattle police blocked the entrance to Interstate Five with squad cars, so the marchers converged on the Mercer Street exit instead.
19 people were arrested at protests later in the afternoon.(http://blogs.seattletimes.com/...)
On Aurora Avenue (Hwy 99) police had to saw through pipes which the protesters had used to lock their arms together, making arrests difficult. Seattle police in riot gear with long clubs occupied Highway 99 after they finally cleared demonstrators from the area around 4:30PM.
During these acts of civil disobedience, demonstrators handed out statements which read
“… to those 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.”
Protesters who blocked traffic also quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. -
"The problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated."
A new national movement for civil rights has gained momentum since the Ferguson demonstrations. There have been dozens of marches and rallies in Seattle since the shooting of Michael Brown. Seattle protest organizers say they will continue to rally and march against racism and police brutality.
Jesse Hagopian declares that his Garfield High School students are determined to shine a light on the injustices of institutionalized racism. He told the demonstrators gathered at the courthouse rally,
"I'm proud to say that I've never seen a struggle erupt with such emotion and as much passion as we're seeing right now."
Will the current wave of "Hands Up Don't Shoot" protests eventually subside?
According to Hagopian the answer is an unequivocal, "No!"
"This movement is too big," he said. "There are too many people who know that black lives matter."