Today the Seattle p0lice arrested four members of the Africatown / Central District community in the Horace Mann school building; they also took steps to prevent community members from retaking control of the building. One of the arrestees told me the police arrested them at gunpoint.
While the mainstream media is presenting these men as “occupiers“, as a violent threat, or as some splinter group, they are, in fact, part of the broad-based More4Mann movement: a coalition of predominantly Black parents, teachers, students, and community activists who want the Horace Mann building to be a public resource for the Africatown/ Central District neighborhood and for students across the district. They want to use the building to create a school that can support Black students who are facing disproportionate suspensions and lack of culturally relevant education in the Seattle Public Schools.
As I wrote here, I was worried that the media and school district officials would try to separate the educators in this coalition from the people remaining in the building, splintering the broad-based nature of the movement. But those divide and conquer tactics didn’t work; the entire coalition held a rally on Nov 8th to support those who remained inside the building after district and police threats had made it unsafe for the educators to continue holding classes there. The coalition put out a unified press release, which you can find at the end of this post. The media was there interviewing people at the solidarity rally, but they didn’t actually publish what they saw, probably because it looked like this:
And this clearly doesn’t fit with the narrative they’re trying to push.
People inside the building reciprocated this solidarity with their own public statements, like this one:
LET THIS BE KNOWN: I am a More for Mann Coalition Task Force member, seated to discuss the future use of the Horace Mann building with the school district, as are two of my co-workers, Gabriel Prawl and Purnell Mitchell. My two co-workers have asked me to post the following on behalf of all three of us: WE HAVE NOT AGREED TO MOVE, AND WE ARE ANGRY THAT MANY OF OUR TEACHERS HAVE BEEN PUSHED OUT INTO THE COLD BY DISTRICT THREATS AND INTIMIDATION! We don’t think it’s right that they were forced to shut down their classes or face the threat “tresspass” charges from the district. It isn’t right that the school district refused to sign the lease on the interim space it offered them. It isn´t right that the school district hasn´t cleaned the mold, filth and birds nests out of that space. It isn´t right for them top make our teachers teach in the rainy streets. It isn´t even right that the school district attorney Ron English and the board members who listen to him are bullying Superintendent Banda into threatening to throw the cops at our community, and are punishing Banda for even convening our task force at all.
So the mainstream media is either too lazy to investigate or too corrupt to tell the truth. It is crystal clear to anyone paying close attention, that those inside the building and those outside in the community are on the same team. This means that Seattle Public Schools officials will not be able to make all of this go away by arresting a few people inside – today’s raid will probably galvanize the broader coalition to keep fighting against racism in the schools in general, and for community control of the Mann building in particular.
This afternoon, supporters of the movement rallied outside the East Precinct where the people arrested were released.
Upon release, they called for everyone to mobilize tomorrow at the school board meeting at the John Stanford Center, 2445 3rd Ave S., Seattle, WA, 98134.
This could get really interesting, because supporters of the Indian Heritage School and AS1/Pinehurst are already planning on rallying at 3:30 before the board meeting, to prevent the closure of their programs. On Facebook, leaders of the More4Mann Movement and leaders of the indigenous Idle No More movement have been exchanging statements of solidarity, supporting each others’ causes. Thinking they just crushed a marginal opposition, school district officials may have just helped consolidate a multi-racial movement against them.
The media is, as usual, missing all of this context. By calling the men arrested “occupiers”, they fail to see that trying to use a public building for the purposes of publicly educating youth in your own neighborhood is not an act of occupation. That’s like saying you are occupying a neighborhood park by allowing your kids to swing on the swingset. But I guess this is how the pro-gentrification Seattle establishment views the remnant of the Black community in the Central Area – as squatters in their own ‘hood.
And yet, this is the same Seattle whose politicians like to make a public show of engaging in “dialogue” with communities of color. In fact, the people arrested are part of the same exact More4Mann coalition that Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda has been calling “community partners”. It is the exact same coalition that Banda and his staff are currently negotiating with to lease space in another district building while the district renovates the Mann building.
Contrary to the Seattle Times’s sloppy reporting, the district has not signed this lease yet, for the reasons outlined here. At least they hadn’t by Nov 10th, the date of the last post on More4Mann’s blog. Neither the district nor the movement has announced any finalization of the lease, so my assumption is the Times is going off of outdated promises that Supt. Banda had made publicly but the district never followed through on. The deal was that the Africatown educators would move out of Horace Mann as long as the programs they were doing in the building continue elsewhere. But no satisfactory place for these programs was every guaranteed in writing. Also, the Africatown workers’ demands that Black folks have equal access to the school construction jobs were also not met. These are the reasons why people were still in the building today.
So by asking the police to raid them, SPS is responsible for a raid on the very same coalition that has been running programming for Black youth in the Mann building for months, programming that Banda and other SPS officials recognized for its cultural relevance and its alignment with the district’s strategic goal of overcoming what they call the “achievement gap” between Black students and white students.
In fact, at least one of the people arrested is actually part of the very task force that Supt. Banda set up to negotiate with the Mor4Mann coalition and to work toward this goal. This means that Seattle Public school staff worked with the Seattle Police to arrest at gunpoint someone who they claim to be negotiating with, during ongoing negotiations over a new lease and new partnership. I guess that’s what “dialogue” looks like to them.
It seems to me like one of two things is going on here. Either 1) the district leadership’s behavior is dangerously erratic and it’s policies around racial equality are completely incoherent or 2) the district is sending a clear message to all of its “partners” that negotiating with politicians might involve them calling a group of people to kidnap you at gunpoint in your own neighborhood during the middle of the negotiation process. What a way to solidify a partnership!
But all of this is getting obscured by the sensationalist media narratives. Kiro TV claims that one of the people inside the Mann building called them and suggested they were prepared to snipe cops from the rooftop. But nowhere does Kiro prove that this call actually represents anyone in the More4Mann coalition, or that it even came from within the building. According to Seattle Weekly, Omari Tahir Garrett, one of the people arrested today, “claims the call was a prank from someone trying to make them look bad, and vowed to press on.”
All of us should press on, despite all this negative media and and the police raid. The issues that MOre4Mann has highlighted are still unresolved. The community’s refusal to relinquish control of the Mann building has pushed the district leadership to talk about these issues, but I don’t think we should take their words seriously since they also just coordinated the arrest of someone on their own task force.
Let’s learn from Africatown, and start taking matters into our own hands. Let’s organize in all of of our schools and neighborhoods, against racist discipline policies and in favor of culturally responsive education. We could take direct action, such as campaigns to reinstate students who are unfairly suspended, or efforts to replace aversive discipline policies like isolation rooms. And, most importantly, we should support Africatown and the Indian Heritage program tomorrow at 3:30 at the school board meeting.
More4Mann press release (Nov 8th 2013, coinciding with a rally outside the Mann building):
Imminent Eviction of Black Community Education Center by SPD
The Seattle Police Department has issued a notice to the Africatown Center for Education & Innovation to remove this needed community resource from its location at the Horace Mann School as soon as 6pm tonight, November 8, 2013. The Seattle School Board has refused to negotiate in good faith with Seattle’s Black community to preserve necessary programming at Horace Mann, Africatown’s only location, which benefits cross-cultural communities of color in Seattle’s Central District.
The Seattle School District has, in spite of comment from Seattle’s Black community, chosen to return the NOVA Alternative School to Horace Mann. Overwhelming community support in the Central District and among the Black community for continuing ACEI’s mission has been ignored by the Seattle School District’s push to relocate NOVA from its current spacious and sufficient location central to its student body on 20th Ave E.
ACEI has put down roots in reclaiming Horace Mann School *for* the Black community and has brought in cross-cultural programs that benefit many Seattle children, from bilingual Spanish/English education for grade schoolers through the Seattle Amistad School’s summer program at ACEI to fostering shared community responsibility through the Africatown Center Children’s Collective where we bring the proverbial village together to promote an Afrocentric curriculum for young minds.
It is imperative for Seattle’s Black community that we retain this resource and that the School Board speak to us in good faith about discussing future possibilities for Africatown at Horace Mann. We can work with the Seattle School District to create a better, Afrocentric focus for Horace Mann School, a school in the very heart of the Central District and we are more than willing to do so. However, the Seattle School District has given ACEI nothing but bad faith and now impending eviction.
For more information on the programs offered by Africatown Center for Education & Innovation, please see http://www.africatownseattle.org/africatown-center/.