Seattle closes Black Lives Matter garden amid rampant homelessness, drug use and vandalism

Members of Seattle, Washington’s Parks and Recreation department, along with city police, removed a community garden planted in Cal Anderson Park as part of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 on Wednesday.

City officials said in a statement that the “makeshift,” temporary garden was being removed because of public health and safety concerns, as well as for maintenance reasons including reseeding and turf restoration.

The efforts on Wednesday also included the removal of tent encampments located near the garden and outside the park along E. Olive Street, which city officials said was to ensure the public spaces remain clean and open for everyone.

So far this year, the City’s Unified Care Team has cleaned up encampments at Cal Anderson Park 76 times, making the park one of the most frequently addressed areas in the city for repopulated encampments, the city said.

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Seattle closes Black Lives Matter garden amid rampant homelessness, drug use and vandalism

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – MARCH 13: In an aerial view, a Black Lives Matter mural stretches across a city block in front of Cal Anderson Park on March 13, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. The park was occupied by protesters between June 8 and July 1, 2000, after clashes with police, who temporarily abandoned a precinct there. The so-called CHOP-CHAZ protesters declared a 6-block autonomous zone, demanding social justice, cuts to the police budget and other items, following the death of George Floyd.  (John Moore/Getty Images)

City officials also said the temporary garden has created unsafe conditions for people who enjoy the park. Examples of incidents include vandalism in the park’s public bathrooms, public drug use, unauthorized camping and an increasing rodent population.

The Seattle Times reported that Seattle Parks planned to act in October, though the city received push back from the Black Star Farmers, a group that stewarded the garden.

In fact, the group petitioned over 5,000 signatures from people against the park’s removal, citing the garden honors Black and Indigenous people killed by police. The opposition also claimed the park provides community members a place for joy and healing, as plants like amaranth, tobacco, corn, currants, strawberries and more grow there.

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Still, Seattle Parks said the park needed to be removed so the park could be used for other reasons.

Located in the park’s “Sun Bowl” area, the park offers a space for gatherings and events and is near electrical and water hookups.

The publication reported that supporters of the garden watched the park get taken out by construction vehicles guarded by park rangers and police. One bystander said no notice was given of the removal, yet he showed up to save some of the plants.

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Seattle Parks said it has conducted community engagement with park visitors, neighbors and adjacent businesses near the garden since 2020 and received “significant” feedback showing a desire to relocate the garden elsewhere in the park.

The department also said it has been in communication with community activists since 2020, offering alternative locations for the garden, though none of the locations were acceptable by the organizers of the garden.

The city said it “remains committed to an ongoing dialogue to produce an alternative garden site.”

Several community leaders weighed in on the garden’s removal, including council member-elect Joy Hollingsworth, who said parks should be maintained to be safe, clean and welcoming.

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Seattle police arrested 21 people while crews cleared out a homeless encampment at Cal Anderson Park in December 2020.  (Seattle Police Department)

“Cal Anderson Park is the living room of Capitol Hill and a focal point of our city,” Hollingsworth said. “It’s important that we prioritize sanitary conditions within shared public spaces so that our neighborhoods can continue to flourish.”

Some people were not aware there was a garden in remembrance of victims of deadly force by police, including Katrina Johnson, a cousin of Charleena Lyles who was shot and killed by Seattle police officers Steven McNew and Jason Anderson. The two officers claim Lyles cornered them in her kitchen while brandishing a small knife.

“To make a garden without reaching out to the families and even letting them know about it tells me that this is not about our loved ones but about folks hijacking the movement and trying to make a name for themselves off of our pain and that is simply not okay,” Johnson said in a statement provided on the city’s website.

Darrell Powell, president of the Seattle, King County NAACP said the garden was supposed to be a memorial to the Black lives lost to police violence.

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Instead, he said, it has turned into anything but that.

“The Black community is unaware of the existence of the garden, and the garden does not represent any meaningful sense, the vast number of Black lives extinguished by police violence,” Powell said. “The Seattle-King County NAACP stands with Mayor Bruce Harrell and his administration in establishing a true representation memorializing the Black Lives lost due to police violence.”

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