KIRO-7 enters occupied school

by: Linzi Sheldon Updated:


SEATTLE - KIRO 7 went behind the barricades around a Seattle school occupied by a group of people who have claimed the building as their own.
"Like the Chinese have Chinatown...we have AfricaTown," Omari Tahir-Garrett said.
The building has no heat and the only power source is a generator.
But the people there insist they're teaching African-American students and held a class as recently as Sunday.
They've been at the old Horace Mann School for weeks, adding signs outside blasting Seattle Public Schools and the Seattle Police Department.
The group is now demanding that the school system fundamentally change how it teaches African-American history as part of its curriculum.
Garrett showed KIRO 7 the poster of President Barack Obama, political signs for Mississippi Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, and a banner referencing Trayvon Martin hanging in the foyer of the school.
But there were no students to be seen.
KIRO 7 asked to go upstairs to see some classrooms, but Garrett told the crew that the foyer was as far as it could go.
In mid-August, a group called AfricaTown took over-- demanding space for programs for black students.
The school district says all the people it was dealing with have left and the people still in the building are trespassers.
One of the occupiers left KIRO 7 a voicemail over the weekend.
"I was wondering if you could tell your cameraman to please turn his light off because we thought it was the police and our guy up on the roof, he's got an itchy trigger finger," the man in the message said. "So if you would please turn that off, that'd be great."
"Do you have guns here?" KIRO 7 asked Monday.
"But that's not a relevant question," Garrett said.
"It is because of that voicemail," KIRO 7 said.
"We're not about warfare," Garrett said. "We're about the education of African children."
Garrett said constructing AfricaTown is the answer to closing the achievement gap for African-American students in Seattle.
It's not the first time Garrett's done this.
He occupied the Colman school for several years to get a cultural center.
It was turned into the Northwest African American Museum and affordable housing, which Garrett says is nowhere near what he wanted.
This is his second attempt.
Neighbors, though, are fed up.
"I don't know why the school district can't get them out of there," Steve Carlson said. "I'm not real happy the way they've kind of taken over the space there."
The school was scheduled to begin construction in September and the school district is now facing thousands in delay penalties.
Now Garrett has a new demand.
"What would it take to end this situation?" KIRO 7 asked.
"The school district to change their curriculum," Garrett answered, "to reflect true history...the school district stop denying African culture."
Seattle police said on Monday that officers are keeping a close eye on the situation at the school and figuring out the next steps.


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