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All Black Lives Matter, East Africans’ Too

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Pipe Smoking 2

It wasn’t on the agenda, but the roomful of activists from Seattle’s East African community put the issue front and center anyway yesterday at the city council’s regular Monday-afternoon meeting. Showing up in force, the group, which also included African American civil rights leaders, was there to condemn mayor Ed Murray’s proposed crackdown on all 11 of the city’s hookah lounges—largely East African immigrant chill-out spots around town that feature hookah pipes, flavored tobacco, and cozy couches, along with R&B videos and sports programming on the large-screen TVs. The mayor’s crackdown is supposedly a simple case of enforcing no-smoking rules, but Murray, by grandstanding with a press conference last week where he framed the move as a broader war on violent crime, revealed his ulterior motive to win political points. And now he’s facing justified blowback for such naked politicking, and, as some activists said yesterday, for racism.

“What the mayor did was demonstrate that not only do black lives not matter to him, but black votes don’t matter to him either,” King County NAACP attorney James Bible said to enthusiastic applause.

“We’re blaming all of this violence on hookah lounges, but I have yet to see one strand of evidence that connects that,” said Gerald Hankerson, president of the King County NAACP. “This is racist at best.”

The activists held up signs that read:“Stop blaming hookah lounges. Criminalizing hookah lounges is racist and xenophobic.”