MLK March ‘Splinter’ Group Targets Seattle Pot Shop


On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, about 300 Seattle participants broke away from the thousands of people in the main march and moved through the new construction in the 23rd Avenue corridor. They chanted “Black Lives Matter” as they marched, followed by a designated group of Seattle Police officers (SPD). The splinter group ended their march at retail pot shop Uncle Ike’s.

The problem is that the community identifies Uncle Ike’s as a symbol of gentrification, but worse, many believe Uncle Ike’s is a direct result of racist policies, because it is located on a corner associated with arrests and the impact of the “war on drugs” in black communities.

Central District real estate investor and entrepreneur Ian Eisenberg opened Uncle Ike’s in September 2014, as the first to apply Seattle’s liquor and cannabis initiative I-502 for retail pot stores.

The city was quite concerned that a pot shop would lower the value of the neighboring residences and retailers and feared developers were building a “Little Amsterdam.”

The neighboring Mount Calvary Christian Center was especially vehement in their objections.

Eisenberg told the Capitol Hill Seattle (CHS):

“At first, people said a pot shop was going to take down property values. A pot shop is a weird thing to bring up on the gentrification argument.’

‘It’s better to bring up on the social injustice argument that black kids go to jail — or went to jail — for selling pot. Now people can legally sell pot. And I agree.’

Last year’s MLK Day’s march was massive, and, perhaps, one of the biggest in the nation. In 2015, some of the SPD officers violently responded to the splinter protestors.

The crowd filled the parking lot in front of 23rd and Union, Uncle Ike’s pot shop, as owner Eisenberg came outside to assess the mood of the crowd, then, according to CHS, “he closed the shop and rolled down protective metal doors.” The crowd halted the traffic lanes.

The SPD officers and the media warily watched events unfolding, and the police presence increased.

The protestors listened silently as one of the participants read a list of demands for Eisenberg. They demanded that he give half of Uncle Ike’s property for “community controlled low-income housing and donate a percentage of his profits to community-based organizations.”

Musician Om Johari spoke about how the neighborhood had changed from what it once was, and she hoped that people of color would learn their history of how they were systematically displaced as gentrification occurred.

She also called Eisenberg to task for selling marijuana on the very block where SPD arrested black teenagers, who are still in jail for doing exactly the same thing.

Eisenberg said he wanted to talk more with the protest’s organizers to clear up some misconceptions about his business. Uncle Ike’s is a Capitol Hill Seattle advertiser.

SPD reported 19 arrests this year.

The Seattle Black Book Club offered this statement, shown in its entirety:

‘We have assembled at Uncle Ike’s today to stand up and speak out against gentrification and the harm it causes our communities.’

‘Gentrification functions as an expression of capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, and exploitation. When this destructive process is aided and assisted by so-called “community leaders” of the local Black misleadership class, it is called neocolonialism.’

‘The methods inherent in the process of gentrification are little different than the colonial practice of ‘peaceful’ subordination, encroachment, and expulsion of a people from spaces traditionally occupied by them and their ancestors. This was practiced in the Pacific Northwest during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries against the indigenous populations by European and Anglo-American settlers.’

‘The same political and economic structures, ideologies, and dehumanization of vulnerable people is as alive in Seattle today as it was in 1855 when the Treaty of Point Elliott was signed.

Let me remind you that ALL of Seattle squats on stolen Duwamish and Salish land!’

‘This process is ‘justified’ under the supposedly “colorblind” economic principle of supply and demand that also lacks any sense of JUSTICE.’

‘These white newcomers, many from outside the city itself, buy homes and land for cheap in formerly red-lined areas, building or remodeling houses, which drives up the property values of the homes around them until they are no longer affordable to the people who had been living there.’

‘Or a developer, like Ian Eisenberg, buys up vast amounts of land and builds major apartments or condos too expensive for an oppressed community to afford. Either way the net result is the same, people are displaced and are some times made homeless.’

‘There are some people who manage to hold onto their homes or apartments only to find watch as their children suffer another harmful effect of colonialism (and neocolonialism); a white-washed, academically lacking, miseducation [sic].’

‘Marginalized as ‘minorities’ and ‘special education students’ in their schools, our cultural traditions are shunned, our methods of communication are stigmatized, and our history is all but ignored. Students of color are penalized for not becoming more like their oppressors, and as a result are suspended and expelled at three times the rate of their peers making them exceedingly likely to become trapped in the School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP).’

‘At the University of Washington, a public institution with over 40,000 students only approximately 3% are Black, when in Washington Black people make up 4.1%, in King County 6.7%, and in Seattle 7.9%. Black youth in Seattle Public Schools (SPS) made up 4.5% of the students, but also over 50% of the students classified as being without a home.’

‘Urban cities are, in essence, internal colonies replete with an occupying force known as law enforcement. These newcomers complain at advisory councils, such as, the East Precinct Advisory Council (EastPAC), about Black people and other people of color, and demand that the police extricate or expel us from “their” neighborhoods and ruthlessly punish us for existing at all.’

‘Over the past year, Black Lives Matter has brought back onto the public agenda how the police brutalize and terrorize people of color and are a slave catching force for the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC).’

‘No longer will we remain silent. No longer will we be complicit in crimes against our community. No longer will we watch as gentrification and capitalism destroy our social networks and structures by displacing our people. No longer will we permit these supposedly ‘colorblind’ economic practices to continue without an appeal to justice.’

Ian Eisenberg, owner of Uncle Ike’s Recreational Marijuana Shop and owner of numerous properties in Seattle’s Central Area,


  1. Hand over 54% of his real estate holdings to the community for the purpose of community controlled low income housing.
  2. Provide funds to be used for the legal defense of people of color with drug cases in Seattle and the cities that people have been gentrified to, and provide funds to the Black Community to lobby for retroactive marijuana laws.
  3. Provide funds for community-selected organizers to fight economic instability in or impacting communities of color.
  4. Build or provide funding for a community controlled center that will have programs, which include but are not limited to, addressing economic disparities, food justice, and the education gap experienced by people of color.
  5. Provide funds to assist people who have already been, or who will be, displaced by gentrification.

We are willing to take all necessary measures to satisfy the demands we’ve listed here.

Seattle Black Book Club

Featured Image: Seattle Municpal Archives via Flickr, available under a Creative Commons license.