Seattle Protesters Seek No ‘Cages for Kids’ in King County

SEATTLE — King County Executive Dow Constantine endured jeers from 30-plus protestors who are seeking to block construction of its new Children and Family Justice Center (CFJC). According to a report filed by the Seattle Times among the taunts lobbed on March 2, during the six-hour protest, was the assessment that Constantine is “jailer in chief” and that he’s building “cages for kids.”

The controversial CFJC — now under construction in Seattle’s Central District — is meant to replace the aging Youth Services Center and will include childcare for families on court business, space for youth and family programs, resource center connecting youth and families with services in their communities, bike and pedestrian paths, and an eco-friendly design that hopes to gain LEED Gold certification.

Julianna Alson, a spokesperson for the No New Youth Jail Coalition, which helped organize the protest, observed that new jail merely underscores the administration’s commitment to additional youth incarceration. She emphasized that the facility will have particularly adverse effects on minorities and people of color.

Another organizer, Alex Brott, observed that “We as white people need to be standing up against racism whether or not people of color are in the room.”

Dow Constantine
King County Executive Dow Constantine was called “Jailer in Chief” by protestors.

Some protesters chanted that “Dow’s agenda is Trump’s agenda.” In rebuttal, Constantine’s office issued a statement on the afternoon of March 2 that indicated King County has reduced the juvenile population by 70 percent over the past two decades. Protestors rebutted that more than 50 percent of incarcerated youth, however, are black despite representing only 10 percent of the county’s population.

“We are innovating with new alternatives to detention such as Family Intervention and Restorative Services (FIRS) — programs proven to divert youth of color from the justice system and toward supportive programs and mentors,” the statement said.

Rachel Smith, Constantine’s chief of staff, spoke with protesters and explained that her administration is pursuing a policy of zero youth detentions and is committed via a public health approach to youth crime.

In a press statement, organizers accused the county of using misleading language and using “positive messaging” in support of a project that would “uphold racist systems and strengthen the school to prison pipeline.”

To design and build the facility, King County has contracted with Portland, Ore.-based Howard S. Wright, which is a holding of international construction company Balfour Beatty Construction Company Inc. The new CFJC will include a courthouse for juvenile court and dependency court, juvenile detention, a parking structure and public open areas. It is scheduled to open by 2020.