Statement on Sweep & Destruction of Black Lives Memorial Garden

submitted anonymously

On Wednesday, December 27th, at approximately 6 am, the City of Seattle sent Seattle Parks & Recreation (SPR) along with the Seattle Police Department (SPD) to destroy the Black Lives Memorial Garden (BLMG) and in doing so they violently displaced people living in and around it. BLMG was planted during the 2020 George Floyd uprising within the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone/Occupied Protests in Cal Anderson Park. The garden commemorated and honored Black and Indigenous people murdered by police, was home to a variety of medicinal plants and foods, and has been used for many forms of radical mutual aid and agitation against police violence. A broad collection of individuals worked together to create a space of solace in an otherwise increasingly hostile city. What follows are the words of several individuals involved in maintaining and growing the BLMG in response to the City’s sweep and public statement defending the eviction.

The Black Lives Memorial Garden was founded during the 2020 protests against the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. In the three years since, it has grown countless pounds of produce and herbal medicine distributed freely to local community, as well as established dozens of native plants that are vital for the health of our local ecosystems. It has provided sanctuary, healing, and joy. The garden has expanded beyond its symbolic representation of resistance against state oppression to become an active community hub for mutual aid networks, food distribution, and political education for building dual power and unity amongst oppressed communities. 

The Black Lives Memorial Garden collective is heartbroken that the City took the step of removing the garden. We are heartsick over the destruction of so many indigenous plants and determined to regrow. In this time of mourning, we are also disappointed and frustrated by the City’s statement on the garden’s destruction. This statement misses many important points about the garden, its history, and the community around it.

First and foremost, the City’s statement overlooks that BLMG was created to honor Black and Indigenous lives. Volunteers engaging with visitors to the garden begin their introductions with this information, Black Star Farmers press releases states this, and memorial offerings in the garden demonstrate this. It’s worth noting that the garden has always been home to indigenous plants that provide food, medicine, and beauty. When the City arrived on Wednesday morning, they destroyed these plants. They didn’t move them, they killed them. It took an hour for one steward to finally be allowed into the work zone to salvage plants from the native berry bed. The rest are gone, for the moment.

The City has said many times that it has engaged in community outreach. Unfortunately, when asked for specifics about their methods, they don’t provide answers. Even other City officials have only been given SPR’s 2021 report when they ask for data. When asked about recent outreach, SPR only provides press releases, even though the Parks Board of Commissioners themselves said at a November meeting that they’ve received hundreds of letters and calls about the garden. By contrast, the BLMG collective spent the autumn of 2023 doing outreach around Cal Anderson, collecting thousands of signatures on a Change.org petition and over 75 letters of support from local businesses. Survey results from local residents also support the garden. After seeing how SPR handled outreach for the recently proposed playground at Denny Blaine Park, we’re curious who they spoke with about the BLMG, when, and how.

We do know how they’ve spoken with us. Parks Commissioners have fumbled the name of the garden as the “Black Lives Matter Garden” rather than the “Black Lives Memorial Garden.” Parks officials have made promises not to touch the garden until meeting with garden organizers, meetings which have not yet happened. The Mayor’s office has cold-called activists during the holidays. And SPR has never been willing to discuss compromises that would let the memorial garden stay where it is in some form.

The City cited unsafe and unhygienic conditions at the BLMG as the primary reason for its removal. The City has not been there when community members provided medical aid to park users, included administering Narcan and training people in its use. The City was there during the recent cold snaps, to remove the heat sources at the garden that people living outside were using to survive. People using Cal Anderson, and especially people living outside there, do need the City’s help to be safe and hygienic. Unfortunately, the City chose to spend thousands of dollars to continually sweep people seeking refuge near the garden and thousands more to destroy the garden entirely. We’re curious how they intend to offer safety and hygiene to Seattle residents, including our unhoused neighbors.

The BLMG is located in the middle of Cal Anderson, by the public restrooms, on a slope that was once part of the Capitol Hill Organized Protest area. SPR has said repeatedly that this slope, the Sun Bowl, is “one of few spaces that is appropriate to host gatherings and events” in the park, and implied that the footprint of the BLMG makes those gatherings and events impossible. To the contrary, the BLMG utilized the space with movie nights, mutual aid fairs, and education and artistic circles. Black Star Farmers has hosted large events in the garden area since 2020 that offer reconnection to the land and encourage dialogue and reflection on our collective conditions. Permitted events have taken place in the North and South Meadows of the park without interruption for the garden’s entire lifespan. We’re curious what events SPR hasn’t been able to host in Cal Anderson since 2020, and why efforts were never made to collaborate with garden stewards to hold events in the Sun Bowl.

Finally: The Parks Department’s statement contained numerous quotes from Black Seattleites, including family members of victims of police violence, that expressed disapproval with aspects of the Black Lives Memorial Garden and critiques of Black Star Farmers’ intentions. The BLMG collective takes these perspectives seriously. Many of our most involved community members are Black and other people of color; we’ve been impacted by police violence ourselves; and we want to be accountable where we have caused harm or hurt feelings. We’d like to find time for a longer discussion directly with the parties quoted.

SPR stated in their release that they’re open to continuing dialogue, and the Board of Commissioners stated during their December 2023 meeting an interest in holding a town hall style community meeting to discuss the future of the garden. We look forward to this, though neither the violent removal of the garden and its surrounding residents, nor the behind-closed-doors conversations arranged by the Mayor, espouse the “good faith” rhetoric stated by SPR. In the meantime, removing the garden and displacing the people there does not change the desperate situation faced by people who came to the garden for warmth, food, and medicine. The mutual aid programs operating around the space will continue.

Any gardener can tell you that growth is hard, slow, and sometimes full of setbacks. But as gardeners, we also know: we can regrow. And we hope the City, our neighbors, and our community will join us as we renew.