On the April 20 marijuana holiday, several hundred multi-national protesters took over the intersection at 23rd and Union to protest the existence of “Uncle Ike’s” marijuana store. Some blockaded Ike’s parking lot, which was blocked off with police barricades for a 4/20 party.
The Unity on Union-Call to Action and “Irony on 23rd” petition group initiated the action targeting the pot shop which is part of the rapid gentrification of the formerly predominantly Black Central District community. The opening of Uncle Ike’s, (whose owner Ian Eisenberg holds title to four parcels in the neighborhood) is seen as the most visible face of a dramatic gentrification process centered at 23rd and Union.
Protesters came from a variety of organizations, including the NAACP of Seattle-King County, AfricaTown, the Black Book Club, the The Mount Calvary Christian Center, which is literally right next door to Uncle Ike’s, members of the Seattle MLK Celebration Committee and #NotThisTime, a group organizing around the police killing of Che Taylor, as well as local rapper Draze, author of “Irony on 23rd.”
At issue is the “irony” of a massive white-owned marijuana store, opened under the auspices of the state legalization initiative, at the corner of 23rd and Union, where countless young African Americans had been arrested (and some killed) in the “War on Drugs” for doing exactly the same thing–selling marijuana. In fact, one speaker at the rally in the intersection, LeShawn Gamble of Tacoma, a veteran, explained how he served one year and one day for selling four “blunts,” current value about $40. Gamble is now the founder of Renaissance 21, an arts, activism and advocacy business for disenfranchised youth.
Pastor Reggie Witherspoon of the Mount Calvary Christian Center explained the community’s outrage over the existence of a marijuana store next door to his church, where a youth center has existed since 1998. Ordinances governing the placement of legal marijuana stores stipulate that they shall not be located within 500 feet of schools and youth centers, and yet, when Witherspoon spoke to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray about this situation, he was told that while Uncle Ike’s was in violation of the law, the city would not shut it down because it was generating more than $1 million in revenue each month.
Witherspoon and other speakers made it clear that they were not protesting the legal sale of marijuana. Rather, they are demanding that the law regulating legal marijuana stores be implemented equally. As many speakers pointed out, if a large pot store were to try to open up next to a church teen center in a wealthy white neighborhood, the city’s reaction would have been very different.
As the rally in the intersection of 23rd and Union wound down, some protesters linked arms and blocked the entrance to Uncle Ike’s parking lot, where customers were entering to line up. “Gentrification stops here, Ike’s has got to disappear,” they chanted. Some entreated would-be customers to go a few blocks away to shop at a different pot store.
In a moment worthy of the hashtag #IronyOn23rd, Seattle police first met across the street with a security person from Uncle Ike’s, then lined up along the barricades to “protect” the marijuana store from non-violent protesters.