Sara Mae, owner of 701 Coffee on 23rd Avenue, and a few Central District residents gathered Saturday afternoon to discuss some measures regarding gentrification and the recent shootings in the historically black neighborhood.
Ian Eisenberg — whose pot shop Uncle Ike’s at the corner of East Union Street is believed to be playing a role in the gentrification process in the area — was among the attendants.
To start the conversation, Mae said she and her family, who live in a small apartment above 701 Coffee, were terrified by a shooting and vehicle chase that occurred Feb. 23 near her coffee shop. It was reported to the Seattle Police Department around 7 p.m.
She said the fear the community felt that evening should be a strong reason to increase the number of police officers in the area to make it safer.
“Do we have the right to feel safe and secure in our community from gun violence? I say, we do, and I think we all agree on that,” Mae said. “Do we need more officers in our community? I think that we do. I’m sick and tired of waking up at two o’clock in the morning, yelling for my kids to get down on the floor and hoping that nobody got hurt by a stray bullet.”
Eisenberg agreed. He also owns Sea Suds Carwash, a few feet away from the gas station and Midtown Center on 23rd and Union, where a couple shootings occurred in the last two weeks.
“The city could have more police cars driving through these lots a little more frequently,” he said. “For a few dollars of police time, the problem would simply go away.”
Africatown CEO and Black Dot co-founder K. Wyking Garrett had a different opinion.
“We think that is really a shame that you would take one marginalized people that have experienced real marginalization and try to use that as a shield and an excuse to perpetuate gentrification,” Garrett said.
Garrett said white people like Mae and Eisenberg wouldn’t have to experience the racism, discrimination and violence African Americans suffer every day when dealing with cops.
Tension arose when Garrett claimed that Mae was endorsing Eisenberg’s development plans for the neighborhood because the businessman paid some of 701 Coffee’s bills.
At that moment, hackles raised and the conversation became a mere finger-pointing exchange. The coffee shop owner started asking a few people to leave the meeting due to comments she considered disrespectful.
Angela Gilliam with the East Precinct Advisory Council complained the meeting agenda was unclear, which made the attendants go off on a tangent as she left the venue.
“I came to this meeting because I thought that there was going to be a big community discussion,” Gilliam said. “I appreciate what I’ve heard so far from everybody but I’d like to know how we can move forward with some kind of community spirit that includes disagreement.”
When things at the coffee shop cooled down, participants discussed entrepreneurial ways to engage the community and fight crime, such as cultural events and weekend fairs in the area of 23rd and Union with chef and TV host Tarik Abdullah.
“Folks don’t do crime because they wake up in the morning and want to commit a crime,” the chef told Eisenberg. “People want opportunities, and if you have leverage and put that off the table, and instead of using it to hire some bike cops, and you have a man who wants to do better for a community of people like us, give that man some leverage.”
After the meeting, Garrett, Seattle Against Foreclosure and Eviction (SAFE in Seattle) organizer Cliff Cawthon and some anti-gentrification protesters headed to Midtown Center for another community meeting.
Eisenberg wandered around the block where his business is located, exchanging a few words with protesters.
Eisenberg declined a request by the Capitol Hill Times for comment on the tense meeting at 701 Coffee.