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We are under attack!

Response to Recent Attacks by NAAM and the Urban League

July 29, 2020 (live press conference)

Response to Recent Attacks by NAAM and the Urban League

DUWAMISH TERRITORY, “SEATTLE, WA.” The African American Heritage Museum & Cultural Center is the original campaign to divest from the Seattle Police Department and invest in the Black community. Today, like a quarter of a century ago, it is under attack by the Urban League and the Northwest African American Museum, whose first director was FBI agent Carver Gayton, and who just 10 days ago held a press conference calling for 2,000 more police officers.

Since Juneteenth, elder Omari Tahir who is the founder of the African American Heritage Museum & Cultural Center (AAHM&CC) along with a growing number of community members, including original AAHM&CC artist-in-residence Earl Debnam, have been asserting the AAHM&CC’s property rights by hosting an outdoor museum with exhibits and programming from 10am-8pm, that is guarded at night by 74-year-old Baba Omari and museum volunteers.

This past week, we heard that an Urban League board member called a number of Black community leaders in an attempt to generate support for the violent and unnecessary act of calling the police to suppress the peaceful protest. Yesterday, the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM) circulated a mass email full of false claims calling activists “disrespectful” and “violent” in a clear attempt to set the stage for our violent eviction at the hands of the police or the feds who are currently in town. It would not be the first time.

At its’ heart, and since its inception in 1981, the AAHM&CC has been about divesting from the police and investing in community. For three years, elders Omari Tahir, Earl Debnam, Patrick Haggerty and others, occupied the site of a proposed police precinct at 23rd and Yesler and successfully blocked the placement of a precinct within the historically Black Central District. The activists countered the city’s intention to invest in policing with the proposal to instead invest in a cultural institution dedicated to uplifting and empowering the Black community, especially the youth. In 1985, the community declared the abandoned Colman School building as the African American Heritage Museum & Cultural Center, marking the start of the longest occupation of a public building in US history.

At the time, the AAHM&CC’s occupation was nominally supported by the establishment. Norm Rice, the former Mayor, sponsored a committee that included Omari and Earl and committed to creating a world-class museum and cultural center at Old Colman School. The building was sold to the AAHM&CC in 1998; however, not long after they were evicted by a Seattle Police SWAT team. The building was then illegally sold five years later to people with downtown money, who did not fight for or share the vision of the original museum’s founders, and who worked closely with the city and the feds in order to uphold the city’s violent institutions. NAAM’s recent press conference calling for 2,000 more police officers shows that this relationship has not changed.

The AAHM&CC’s outdoor museum is drawing attention to how the Urban League colluded with the FBI, the family of Bill Gates, and corrupt officials within the Seattle School District to steal Colman School from the AAHM&CC, who are the rightful owners of the property according to a signed purchase and sale agreement with Seattle School District, a publicly received $50,000 down payment, and filings made by the AAHM&CC to the WA Secretary of State — all of which predate the Urban League’s documents. The AAHM&CC proves that they had the resources to actualize their vision, exhibiting their receipt of an approved loan for the full purchase amount stated in the agreement, in addition to the federal block grant money that was secured by the AAHM&CC, but ended up being co-opted by the Urban League.

NAAM and the Urban League have responded to the AAHM&CC’s outdoor museum asserting their property rights with a range of violence from calling police multiple times, to outright slander of the predominantly young BIPOC community members supporting our elder’s reoccupation of Old Colman School. We now respond point by point to their false claims:

  • They have claimed that we are trespassers, “obstructing entry into the building for museum staff and contractors to do ‘vital work.’” Firstly, we are land defenders, healers, and community members, not violent trespassers. We are organizers creating positive programming, honoring and building upon the legacy of our Elders and the original 13-year occupation on stolen Duwamish Land.

Since June 19th, an alarm company, a rat inspector, the fire department, the police, and NAAM’s own maintenance worker have all freely accessed the building through separate entrances. No one has been denied the opportunity to do vital work, not even NAAM’s maintenance worker who was ordered to board up the windows to the front door, unnecessarily.

  • We are here with one single demand: “Any and all entities obstructing the African American Heritage Museum & Cultural Center’s rightful control over our land and infrastructure are asked to please cease and desist from such obstruction. Former obstructors will be welcomed to participate in our project under the AAHM&CC’s leadership, as long as they are willing to do so. We are here for justice, not revenge.”

We fail to see how this is threatening or menacing. We are deeply rooted in an understanding that no one is free until Black and Indigenous Peoples are free. We are guests here on Duwamish Territory, in Africatown, and take leadership from our Elders. If anything, The Urban League and NAAM have been threatening and menacing to us, not only with ultimatums, but with their own actions.

  • NAAM has not shown an openness to collaborate. They called the police on us three times before anyone from the organization actually came to engage with us. Against the wishes of Baba Omari and his family, they then called the Fire Department for a wellness check, claiming that he’s mentally unwell (calling him “diseased”) in an attempt to diminish the righteousness of his well documented claims, and to distract from the fact that their first course of action was to call the police and bring violence and harm directly to us.

By doing so, NAAM has “maligned” its own reputation, not us.

  • We have engaged directly with residents to share the original and persistent vision of a world class African American Heritage Museum & Cultural Center and to express care that they transition to safe, comfortable and affordable housing. The truth is that none of the design options considered in the 45-page 1994 Mayoral report ever had any apartments. While we sorely need more low-income housing, it is equally true that we need positive cultural institutions controlled by the grassroots of the Black community. A number of the residents whom we spoke to understand this and have told us that they would rather live somewhere else and see the Colman School building fully actualized into the African American Heritage Museum & Cultural Center that it was meant to be.

We have been told that Coast Management, hired by the Urban League and approved by the City, maintains a climate of fear and intimidation. Management regularly leave notes to residents in the elevator threatening eviction and referencing tenants who have been evicted. In contrast, a resident has asserted to us: “You humanize the building. You bring humanity and light”.

  • In their letter, NAAM claims that “Residents, families, and children of low-income housing and the broader community around the Colman School building, including some visitors to the parks adjacent to the Colman School building such as the Jimi Hendrix Park and Sam Smith Park, are distressed and frightened of the trespassers’ disruption and damage”.

We are deeply disturbed by this lie. Since Juneteenth, Baba Omari, Earl Debnam and museum volunteers have brought new life to the building and its surrounding areas. From picking up garbage every morning, to providing water and food to visitors of our area, and to supporting those in need. We are hosting art exhibits and have open studio time. We have been collaborating with many organizations to bring family friendly positive programming, including working with Black Star Farmers to create garden beds that bring literal life, food and nourishment, to the community right in front of the museum where the land is sadly filled with nothing but gravel. Community organizations have partnered with us in solidarity for healing justice, Filipinx liberation, anti-imperialism, and education about anti-Blackness. Families, community elders, and Black youth have filled the space with art, teach-ins, cook outs, rallies calling for defunding the police, and conversations about the history and their vision for the future of their community.

We invite the Urban League and the NAAM to show us exactly what damage has been done, other than to their reputation, which has been completely self-inflicted.

In closing, we reaffirm our commitment to uplifting the legacy and heritage of Black artists and cultural workers decolonizing spaces for Indigenous & Black liberation and healing.

We warmly invite you to visit us this Saturday from 1-9pm during Umojafest Day of Unity, to see for yourselves what has been built here. There will be a march from 23rd and Union to Jimi Hendrix Park. We hope to see you here.

In Unity & Struggle,
The African American Heritage Museum & Cultural Center

#FREETHELAND

Categories
We are under attack!

“NAAM” HOLDS PRESS CONFERENCE CALLING FOR “AT LEAST 2000 MORE” SEATTLE COPS

On Monday, July 13th (2020), the organization calling itself “Northwest African American Museum (NAAM)” organized a press conference in Jimi Hendrix Park, calling upon the city of Seattle to hire at least two thousand (2000) more police officers. This would nearly double the size of the Seattle Police Department.

Jimi Hendrix Park is located over the former parking lot of the Central Area’s historic Coleman School Building, rightfully owned by the African American Heritage Museum & Cultural Center, to whom it was legally sold in 1998. The AAHM&CC was established as a direct alternative to the unpopular City Hall proposal to build a police precinct at 23rd Avenue and Yesler Way where the low income housing known as the Cannon House now stands instead (thanks to the valiant efforts of community organizers like Omari Tahir Garrett and Patrick Haggerty, who risked their lives to stop the installation of that precinct).

Hosted by “NAAM” Executive Director LaNesha Debardelaben, favorably glorified in soundbite by Fox News and emceed by Chairperson Vicky Beach of the African American Community Advisory Council (an official organ of Seattle’s city government), this press conference featured speakers Harriett Walden of Mothers For Police, Peola Johnson of New Hope Baptist Church, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best and District 37 Legislative Candidate Robert Redwine–who filmed the event and streamed it at this link: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=3114573371923176&id=100001116304596 .

Claiming that Seattle has a shortage of police (interval 12:47 in Mr. Redwine’s video), emcee V. Beach then introduced featured speaker Peola “Auntie P” Johnson, who called Seattle’s City Council “mentally disabled” and delivered the press conference’s main demand for at least 2000 additional cops (interval 14:37 in Mr. Redwine’s video).

“If it was left up to me, I would put at least two thousand more on the payroll. We need them”, said Johnson.

The “NAAM”’s position in favor of adding 2000+ officers to SPD stands in stark contrast to the reasonable political responses to the lynching of George Floyd that have been respectively issued by two major authentic Seattle cultural institutions with whom the AAHM&CC shares a parallel epic history—Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center and El Centro De La Raza (neither or which have called for doubling the size of SPD).

On June 10th, Daybreak Star stated: We stand united with the Black Lives Matters movement in the same way allies stood with our Native American activists who fought for and established a land base here at Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center. Initial planning for that campaign happened at the Filipino Community Hall in South Seattle. Black Panthers showed their support by facing military police in solidarity with us. Volunteers from many marginalized communities tended to our wounded, tired, and hungry activists at Resurrection City so that they could return to the protest. We seek to do the same. ( https://www.unitedindians.org/black-lives-matter/ )

On June 2nd, El Centro De La Raza stated: “El Centro de la Raza condemns the senseless murder of George Floyd – in the strongest possible terms – as we remember Breonna Tayor, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, and Philando Castile; at a local level, we remember John T. Williams, Che Taylor, Charleena Lyles, and countless others whose names never made headlines but whose lives were also cut short by anti-Black racism and police violence. The waves of uprisings that have ignited across the country is a natural culmination of the anger and pain at the continuous racial terror and violence that police regularly perpetuate in our Black communities. At the same time, it has been deeply disturbing to witness the frequently violent responses by police toward protestors. Police have violently charged peaceful protestors, driven police vehicles through crowds, shot rubber bullets, sprayed protesters with harmful gases, and punched, kicked, beaten, arrested, and detained people for doing nothing wrong. These assaults on protesters are unacceptable violence. Our communities should be able to protest injustices in our streets without suffering from police violence and militarized responses. El Centro de la Raza is committed to combatting institutional racism and police brutality in all its forms. Despite decades of effort through multi-racial coalitions to address police misconduct, which has yielded some successes, we are challenged to recognize that our communities are still plagued with police brutality, which was evident this past weekend. Twelve thousand (12,000) complaints were filed after this past weekend’s demonstrations with Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability. One complaint included an officer placing his knee on the neck area of two people who had been arrested. All this despite the Seattle Police Department (SPD) being under a Federal Consent Decree. … We will continue to work with Black Leaders and other leaders of color to call for concrete policy proposals to address systemic targeting and violence against Black communities. These policy proposals should include de-militarization, budget reductions, and enhanced transparency, particularly around misconduct and community oversight of police functions. More often than not, police budgets comprise a significant proportion of discretionary spending and grow steadily year on year. The scope, militarization, and intensity of law enforcement have rapidly increased. In contrast, police have been mistakenly tasked with addressing social problems within communities of color, such as education, mental health, homelessness, and drug abuse. These dynamics have, in turn, resulted in the criminalization and over-policing of communities of color, often with destructive and deadly consequences and minimal accountability for wrongdoing. As allies, our job is to work with the Black community to demand resources that are invested in Black communities in ways that enhance public safety and enrich our communities rather than simply expand and further militarize police ranks.” (http://www.elcentrodelaraza.org/2020/06/02/el-centro-de-la-razas-public-statement-on-george-floyds-death/)

That is very different from the “NAAM”. Although some individual officials of the “NAAM” have posted testimonials on its website about the personal anguish they’ve felt over George Floyd’s death, the “NAAM”’s organized political response–as an institution–so far is embodied by this press conference, calling for the SPD to double in size. While personal testimony is inherently valuable and political, institutional actions are what define an organization’s policy line.

The “NAAM”’s position is therefore even worse than the deafening silence to date (on the lynching of George Floyd) from the website of Chinatown’s Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience (a silence that must surely have the late Chinatown ID legendary activist Bob Santos turning in his grave). In spite of the silence,Wing Luke Museum is AT LEAST still displaying its excellent online Here To Stay exhibit on the struggle for “ownership and place”, which accurately presents the historic words of Ron Lee, son of corner grocers Lloyd and May Lee: “We had the protection of the Black Panthers. Whenever we were robbed, the police couldn’t find the robbers, but the Black Panthers did… And we hid the Black Panthers in the back of the store when the police were looking for them. When the coast was clear we let them out through the alley to their headquarters.” —Ron Lee (https://www.wingluke.org/here-to-stay/)

According to Seattle’s faux-liberal academia, publishing houses and establishment media, The creation of Daybreak Star, El Centro and Wing Luke can largely be credited to a group of multi-ethnic activist celebrities they call “The Gang Of Four”. However, Seattle’s elites are often annoyed if someone dares to ask how this group of “Four”(4) celebrities only succeeded in establishing three (3) major Seattle cultural institutions. They get even more annoyed if you ask them which of the “Four” (4) major ethnic groups represented by this “Gang” is still MISSING its major Seattle cultural institution today.

The uncomfortable truth is this.The celebrity glorified as the alleged African American member of this “Gang Of Four” failed to mobilize any major community protests in response to Mayor Paul Schell’s 1998 SWAT Police raid that shut down the fledgling African American Heritage Museum & Cultural Center, stole it’s legally purchased Coleman School building at gunpoint, and delivered it as HUD-subsidized loot to the corrupt and racketeer-influenced Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle in order to prevent the emergence of a Black led cultural institution of any comparable capacity to that of Wing Luke, El Centro or Daybreak Star.

The Urban League was founded in 1910 by the wife of the wealthy Boston Railroad Tycoon William Henry Baldwin Jr. From its inception, it has always consisted of white industrial wealth hiring mostly Black staff to carry out the political agenda of their employers under a nominally “non-profit” umbrella. In this sense, it can be considered one of the world’s first “NGOs”. It has always aligned itself with the US State Department and been used as a tool of white supremacy since its early days when it worked with the Woodrow Wilson administration to oppose Marcus Garvey’s UNIA movement and pressure Black workers to support the First World War. It has always repressed Black visionaries who were reclaiming their heritage and organizing for authentic cultural and economic development.

The imposition—at gunpoint—of the Urban League’s physical control over the AAHM&CC’s rightful museum building is parallel to the 1966 overthrow of the elected government of Ghana’s elected President Kwame Nkrumah by CIA Station Chief Howard Bane, or, if you want an example from this very continent, the 1864 imposition of Emperor Maximillian I as ruler of Mexico—at the point of European bayonets—in retaliation against Mexico for daring to elect its first indigenous head of state. This is reason why theonly political response to a peoples’ uprising against lynchingthat the “NAAM”’s masters allow it to make is … to call for doubling the city police department.

Free The Land.

-The African American Heritage Museum & Cultural Center

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Historical Archive!

WELCOME TO THE ARCHIVE! — A RUNNING TIMELINE OF OUR HISTORIC DOCUMENTS, ARTIFACTS AND PRESS CLIPPINGS!

Two of the Museum’s founders, in the December darkness of 1985

1986-01-VOLUME26-No.5-NORTHWEST PASSAGE-article:-“Black-Cultural-Center-Or-White-Elephant”

(Click here for an eyewitness account of the police raid.)

2008-03 March 2008 Video Statement of the AAHM&CC in response to the formal “Opening” of the Urban League Village “NAAM” Scam: (It took a person getting arrested at that time, in order to even get this message out.)

2015-07-22-the-false-arrest-of-two-aahmcc-board-members-in-their-own-building, including Seattle-city-council-candidate Omari Tahir Garrett. (We were held overnight in William Rufus King County Jail, and released the next morning with no charges filed.)

2020-07-07 ART AND POLITICS NOW: OCCUPYING THE NAAM – by Susan N. Platt PhD.

2020-09-01 Black Lives Matter and Occupations -Leschi Community Council Newsletter

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