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Central District eviction sparks anti-gentrification protests

The eviction of the Umojafest Peace Center is a blow to many in a the historically black neighborhood

The front of a house reads “REPARATIONS NOW” and “Umojafest Peace Center”

On Wednesday, protesters gathered around the Umojafest Peace Center as the King County Sheriff evicted longtime resident and community activist Omari Tahir-Garrett from his home at 24th Avenue and Spring Street in the Central District. Seattle Police officers stood by as work crews removed Tahir-Garrett’s belongings from the home.

Several dozen protesters surrounded the site, chanting “this is what gentrification looks like” and “this is what they did to the Duwamish.” Many helped move Tahir-Garrett’s belongings out of the rain.

At a press conference Thursday, Tahir-Garrett spoke, along with Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant and community activists.

“If you believe black lives matter, we need to start tying it to real struggles,” said community organizer Rashad Barber.

Another protest at the property is planned for Saturday at 5 p.m.

The eviction comes less than a week after Midtown Properties, who owns both sites, attempted to clear black-owned business incubator Black Dot from Midtown Center. We’re told that Black Dot had been operating under another tenant’s lease, which ended last month.

K. Wyking Garrett, a community activist and co-founder of Black Dot, also created community organization Africatown, who, with nonprofit Forterra, put a bid on the property last month to create an “inclusive development” with affordable housing and black-owned businesses.

“The owners of this property have a choice,” said Council Member Sawant in a prepared statement. “They can go down in history as having aided the disintegration and displacement of this historical black neighborhood. Or they can earn the goodwill of this community and our movement by accepting the bid from Africatown and its partners.”

She says the Office of Housing has agreed to meet with Africatown to discuss how to submit bids for city affordable housing development funds.

Tahir-Garrett’s home has been embroiled in a lengthly legal fight with King County. Court records state that he’d received notices to vacate in March, April, and October 2016.

The site was also hosting a Nickelsville encampment starting in March of 2016.

A February 23 decision in King County Court barred Tahir-Garrett from the block altogether.

Hugh Bangasser of Midtown Partners testified in court to “squalid conditions” on the property. His sibling Tom Bangasser testified on Tahir-Garrett’s behalf, stating that Midtown was responsible for the “chaos and clutter,” and that they’re “not sufficiently concerned with the rights of African Americans.”

Tom Bengasser was removed as a controlling partner in Midtown Partners right before the notices to vacate began. “I’m a believer that the neighborhood should own the property,” he told Capitol Hill Seattle at the time.

Last April, Tahir-Garrett sued the Bangasser family, the County, and some City Council members seeking payment for racial discrimination, defamation of character, and back pay for acting as a caretaker of the property.