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Chesa Boudin, the Most Hated of the Progressive Prosecutors

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Late one recent afternoon, Chesa Boudin logged on to Zoom to have a conversation with me while his wife was in labor. His critics see the 41-year-old San Francisco district attorney as a symbol of the progressive legal-reform movement’s excesses. But Boudin has also attracted national attention because his personal story is so extraordinary: When he was barely a toddler, his parents, David Gilbert and Kathy Boudin, left him with a babysitter so they could rob a Brink’s armored car with fellow members of radical leftist militant groups. Participants in the robbery shot and killed two police officers and a security guard, and Boudin’s parents were both convicted of felony murder. Boudin was raised by Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, leaders of the Weather Underground who, along with Boudin’s birth parents, orchestrated anti-government bombings and anti-war protests, such as the violent 1969 Days of Rage riots in Chicago.

Boudin’s detractors say that rates of certain kinds of crime are up in the city because he does not enforce the law aggressively enough. Two recall campaigns have been launched against him, although one has already failed. He has described the recalls as Republican-backed, and slammed the police union for undermining him. “These tactics have nothing to do with me or my policies and everything to do with a retrograde, reactionary, racist police-union leadership determined to exploit tragedies, undermine criminal-justice reform, and ensure impunity for even those police officers who shoot and kill unarmed Black men,” he told me.

[Read: Cornel West on why the left needs Jesus]

In the past few weeks, Boudin’s story has taken another astonishing turn. Just days before Boudin’s first child was due to arrive, then–New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a last-minute grant of clemency to Boudin’s father, making him eligible for a parole hearing and possible release after 40 years of incarceration. (Boudin’s mother was released from prison in 2003.)

Frankly, I was surprised that Boudin kept our interview date. For someone just hours away from the birth of his child, Boudin was suspiciously coherent; he vibed like a practiced debater who has worked and reworked his winning lines. Our conversation has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Emma Green: I feel like I need to do a little throat-clearing here. The timing of us talking is so intimate. I don’t know you. And you don’t know me.

Chesa Boudin: We’re gonna get to know each other.

Green: Well, just to start with something big: When you were 14 months old, your parents made a choice that fundamentally shaped who you are. They participated in a robbery. A guard and two police officers were killed. Your parents went to prison for it. You’re now about to become a father, responsible for a little tiny person. I wonder how the choice that your birth parents made 40 years ago has shaped how you’re thinking about becoming a father.

Boudin: Well, for one thing, I don’t want to do anything that would jeopardize my ability to be there every single day of my child’s life. What my parents did had devastating consequences for the three men who were killed, first and foremost—for their families, for their entire community, for all the other people who were victims, directly or indirectly—and for our family. I’ve asked my parents infinite times, “How could you possibly have done something so dumb, so reckless, so harmful? How could you have risked not just the harm that was caused to those men and those families, but to me—to us?”

As I think about being a father, I want to make sure I’m trying to avoid not just the normal, everyday mistakes that all parents inevitably make, but the really big ones that some parents, like mine, make. I don’t want to be in a position where I’m asking someone else to step up and do the day-to-day diaper changing and bottle feeding and clothes shopping and temper calming.

Green: Has the context of your childhood made you anxious about doing the wrong thing or making choices that could have a ripple effect in your child’s life?

Boudin: Yes and no. There’s no way that I’ll ever be involved in something like my parents were involved in. It’s beyond the realm of possibility, so I don’t worry about that. I don’t imagine ever being in a position where my kid will have to come through metal detectors and steel gates to see me. That was, of course, a defining part of my childhood and continues to be a defining part of my relationship with my dad.

Green: Which is a really poignant aspect of you becoming a father. The same week in which, God willing, you’re going to have a new baby, you also got the news that former Governor Cuomo granted a commutation of your father’s sentence. At the very least, your dad is going to get a parole hearing, with the possibility of being released from prison. What is that like?

Boudin: There really are no words. My entire life, I’ve wondered and dreamed about “What if he gets out? What will it feel like?” Increasingly, it has seemed like something I shouldn’t even let myself dream about. My dad is 76 years old. As his health problems mounted during a global pandemic, he wasn’t allowed visits for over a year. It seemed almost inevitable that he would die in prison or that, at a minimum, his first and only grandchild would have to go through the same indignities I went through as a child just to get to meet their grandfather.

The news was a humongous weight lifted from my shoulders. It was the opening of a universe of possibilities. I’m not talking about the big things people tend to dream about—trips to outer space or luxury cruises around the Caribbean. I’m talking about being able to hold his hand and not have a correctional officer tell us to stop; being able to cook him dinner and watch a movie and go for a walk in the park; being able to watch him change his grandchild’s diaper—things that are as mundane as they are trivial until they’ve been taken away from you for 40 years. Then they mean the world.

[Read: Republicans like Bob Corker have nowhere to go]

Green: You advocated for the commutation of his sentence. As someone who bore the harm of your dad’s choice, what made you come to believe that he deserved to be released from prison?

Boudin: When my parents were arrested, I was angry at them. My feelings changed over time, but it was a mix of anger and confusion and fear and stigma and anxiety, and a sense of profound abandonment. I said to a child therapist at one point, “If only I’d been more lovable, maybe they wouldn’t have risked losing me.” I had a very real sense throughout my early childhood that their bad choices—their criminal act and subsequent punishment—were my fault, even though I’d only been 14 months old when it happened. It took a lot of work to recover from the damage their arrest caused.

Restoring trust and building a relationship—particularly given the long-distance trips, the searches and pat downs, the metal detectors and steel gates, the invisible ink on my hands, the impossibility of them showing up at birthday parties or graduations—required a lot of work for both of us. It required a commitment on my part to continue making those trips and suffering those indignities. And it required a commitment on their part to accept full responsibility for the horrible mistakes they’d made and to engage with me honestly wherever I was over the years, as my understanding of our family situation and their responsibility for it became more nuanced.

They’re more than just their worst mistakes. They’re more than just the crime for which my dad is now spending nearly 40 years in prison. He’s someone who’s caring and loving and insists on seeing the world through a glass-half-full lens, despite the hardship of his daily life and the miseries of getting old in a prison cell.

Green: Reading about your life, the thing I have a hard time understanding is that, from a very young age, you had to grapple with questions of taking responsibility for bad choices. One could imagine, in an alternate universe, a version of DA Boudin who is tough on crime and wants people to have to face up to the consequences of their actions.

Your critics say you don’t take seriously your duty to enforce the consequences of bad choices people make that have harmful effects on others—crimes. Help me reconcile that. How did you go from your childhood, which was shaped by bad decisions with bad consequences, to promoting an alternative vision of what criminal justice should look like?

Boudin: I want to be really clear: I believe in consequences. I believe that serious crimes should and must have serious consequences. There’s a big disconnect between what some of the critics you mentioned say and what’s actually happening on the ground.

Let me lay it out for you. Since I took office, even despite court closures and a global pandemic that’s led to fewer arrests being presented for prosecution than at any comparable period in San Francisco history, my office has filed more than 7,000 new criminal cases. I’ve personally secured an indictment in front of a grand jury in a murder case. In the last month alone, my lawyers have successfully prosecuted and tried two separate murders in front of juries. There are serious consequences for crimes in San Francisco, and I believe that people who commit crimes must be held to answer. But it must be done in ways that reduce rather than create future crime. It must not simply be based on fear and vindictiveness, but justice, equal enforcement of the law, and data-driven policies that are actually aimed at promoting public safety.

I was elected on a very explicit and clear platform to center crime victims, to prioritize resources for healing, and to address root causes of crime. In some cases, that absolutely means jail and prison. In other cases, we can do far better for public safety.

Green: You’ve talked about the systemic nature of crime and the way data should inform criminal-justice policies. But looking at those statistics, burglary in San Francisco is up year over year. Gun crimes are significantly up year over year. Each of those numbers translates into an individual, into a family, into actual human beings who don’t feel safe. It’s hard to talk about systemic change when people are scared of walking around in their own neighborhoods. Do you think that as the DA, you have a responsibility to not only pursue aggressive enforcement, but also acknowledge that people are scared—and they have a reason to be scared?

Boudin: My job is to make sure that San Francisco is safe and that people feel safe. Those aren’t always synonymous. There’s often a disconnect between what we see in terms of data and how people feel. That’s driven by individual experience, social media, and local news coverage as much as it’s driven by any policy that any district attorney could implement.

I want to be clear about what the data does show. It shows that in my first year in office, overall crime fell by about 20 percent. Rapes were down by about 50 percent. Robberies were down by about 20 percent. Assaults down by about 15 percent. Auto burglaries down by about 40 percent. So, yes, you’re absolutely right. There are some categories of crime, like residential burglaries or like gun violence, that have gone up—categories that appropriately make people feel scared. Residential burglaries are scary. Gun violence is terrifying. [Editor’s note: I checked these statistics, and they’re accurate. They’re complicated by the pandemic, but it’s hard to know exactly how. The pandemic may have lowered rates of crime that typically targets people such as tourists (petty theft, break-ins to steal property from rental cars) and increased crimes such as home break-ins.]

Green: I want to ask you about your relationship with the police. Police unions and advocacy groups have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars opposing you and supporting the recall campaign against you. You indicted several officers for alleged misconduct, which police advocates took as a slap in the face. Do you think that you, as the DA, can be an effective crime enforcer in San Francisco if the police fundamentally don’t want to cooperate with you?

Boudin: The criminal-justice system requires cooperation from a lot of different agencies—the police and the DA, to be sure, but also the courts and the sheriff’s department and probation and parole. No one agency can hold people who commit crimes accountable or can ensure justice is being served on its own. I have a great relationship with Police Chief [William] Scott and his command staff. Many of my line attorneys work every day in court with officers who are out there on the front lines, making arrests and writing reports. It’s frustrating that the police officers’ association in San Francisco has consistently been a source of toxic misinformation and lies in the public discourse. We’ve seen the police union not just spend millions attacking me and other like-minded reformers—they also went after my predecessors. These tactics have nothing to do with me or my policies and everything to do with a retrograde, reactionary, racist police-union leadership determined to exploit tragedies, undermine criminal-justice reform, and ensure impunity for even those police officers who shoot and kill unarmed Black men.

Green: Do you think that’s grounds for a city like San Francisco to divert funds away from the police officers—which some people would call defunding the police?

Boudin: During the height of the Black Lives Matter movement last summer, our mayor and our police chief, both of whom happen to be Black, publicly called for defunding the police. I never joined them in that call. My focus has been on maximizing efficiency of tax dollars when it comes to public safety. I know there’s lots of work police are doing every day in San Francisco that could be done more cheaply, more safely, and more humanely by other people. In 2019, there were about a million calls for service to the police. Only about 5 percent of those calls were violent crimes in progress. Some significant percentage of those calls were mental-health crises or homeless encampments, issues that distract police from investigating violent crimes or having a quick response time when there’s a property crime in progress. I am absolutely certain that most San Francisco Police Department officers do not want to spend their time responding to mental-health crises or drug overdoses, and sadly, that’s what they’re doing right now. So it’s less about defunding or increasing funding and much more about how we use the tax dollars that are there. The San Francisco Police Department budget is about 10 times my budget. It’s over $700 million. It is a very well-funded police department. We need to make sure they have the time and the space to focus those resources on the things that matter most to San Francisco when it comes to public safety.

Green: There have been two recall campaigns against you. Do you think your platform could end up costing you your job?

Boudin: I was extremely detailed and transparent on the campaign trail. I was very clear about what my policies would be once I took office. The trademark policies of my administration are wildly popular in San Francisco: things like ending money bail so that we’re not incarcerating people who are presumed innocent based on their poverty; things like reducing juvenile detention so that we don’t have children in jail; things like getting the last person off of California’s death row, who was sent there from San Francisco County. The recall campaign is exploiting fear and anxiety in a global pandemic. Folks didn’t like the outcome of the last election and see an opportunity, using money raised from Republican donors, to try and reverse it.

[Read: The Texas Republican asking his party to just stop]

Green: Most of the people behind one of the recall campaigns were Democrats, so it’s not just Republicans. When it comes down to it, if you are focused on trying to release people on parole and reduce the size of the jailed population, more people accused of crimes will be walking around on the streets. For better or for worse, that is probably going to mean that some of them will commit crimes again while they’re out of the prison system. Do you think there’s a fundamental trade-off between the criminal-justice system you envision and the fact that people just have to live with the possibility of more crime in their neighborhood?

Boudin: I don’t at all. But first let me address your point about who’s behind this recall. You are absolutely right that the second recall is trying to brand itself as Democrat-led. It’s also true that the San Francisco Republican Party has endorsed it and the vast majority of money they’re raising is coming from a very, very small group of Republican mega-donors who give money to Republican causes all across this country. So yes, they’re calling themselves Democrats, but the reality of where their money is coming from and who’s endorsed them makes it very clear that this is a Republican-led operation.

The logic behind your question—what’s implied—is that because we know some percentage of people who are arrested will eventually commit new crimes, therefore we should incarcerate everyone who’s ever arrested for life. That’s reading between the lines of your question. Do we know that sometimes when police arrest someone that person goes on to commit a murder? Yes, we know empirically that will happen. It will happen in every city in this country, with a Republican tough-on-crime DA, or with a Democrat reformer DA. And the response cannot be to say, “Well, then, every time anybody gets arrested, we will hold them in jail indefinitely.”

When we ignore the broader context that leads people to commit crimes, we ensure that more crime will be committed in the future.

Green: What made you decide yours is a better way of trying to enact a radical vision than, for example, the Days of Rage protest in Chicago, which all four of your parents were involved in?

Boudin: My parents’ approach didn’t work out that well for them, or for me. So there’s that. There’s also the historical context. My parents lived through the Vietnam War, the civil-rights movement. They lived through the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and Fred Hampton. Those were defining moments in their coming of age. And it led them to make some serious mistakes.

I lived through a really different history: one of mass incarceration, one of a country that has come to lead the world in locking people up, one in which we prioritize punishment over healing. I saw with my own eyes and my own lived experience a failed approach to public safety and justice.

Green: In some number of hours, God willing, you’re going to have another little person join your family. Do you hope that that little person grows up to be a radical?

Boudin: I hope what I think all parents hope for, which is that my child is happy and healthy. And that’s really all that matters to me. If they’re happy and healthy, and if they find a way to live their life that helps benefit the community around them, I’ll be the happiest father in the world.

Green: But a side of radical, anti-imperialist politics wouldn’t hurt?

Boudin: You know, honestly, it has never occurred to me. You may find that hard to believe. But I’ve got two brothers who grew up in the same family with the same parents, and neither one of them chose to get directly involved in politics. One of them is a sixth-grade-science teacher. My other brother is a professor and teaches and writes and is essentially an artist. I know that there are infinite possibilities for my child, some that involve politics and some that don’t.

Green: So maybe entomology or dentistry for little baby Boudin.

Boudin: I would be happy to support baby Boudin through dentistry school or, you know what, even nonprofessional careers. I spent summers in high school doing carpentry, building houses, and also on a factory assembly line. And those jobs—working with your hands, seeing the tangible outcome of your labor every single day, literally working for a living, earning an hourly wage—are an experience that I will always cherish. In many ways, it’s something that’s far easier to feel pride in. It’s so much more concrete than the abstract intellectual work that many folks with too many letters after their name engage in. I would be fully supportive of my child even in a decision not to go to college or not to seek a professional career if that’s what makes them happy and that’s what their calling is—art or music or sports or language. I have tremendous admiration for people who know how to carry a tune, which sadly I do not. I’m going to be in big trouble when it comes time to sing “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

Green: Well, good luck. I think you’ll probably figure out a way, like many tone-deaf parents—musically untalented parents—before you.

Boudin: I hope so.

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3 days ago
interviewer was kinda shitty here, no?
seattle, wa
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You’re Smart Enough to Pick Your Own Lunch

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Jonathan Neman really seemed to think he was onto something. Last week, in a lengthy, now-deleted post on LinkedIn, the CEO and co-founder of the upscale salad chain Sweetgreen expounded on a topic that might seem a little far afield for a restaurant executive: how to end the pandemic. “No vaccine nor mask will save us,” he wrote. (The vaccines, it should be noted, have so far proved to be near-miraculously effective at saving those who get them.) Instead, he lamented that Americans are simply too fat to survive COVID-19, a reality that he says could be addressed with “health mandates.”

Neman did not go into many specifics about how health should be mandated, or what such mandates would mean for disabled people, though efforts at national improvement that focus on those designated as physiologically undesirable have historically ended poorly for them. He did offer one proposal: The federal government could decide which types of food Americans are allowed to eat. More specifically, he argued, the government could ban or heavily tax some foods, including any kind of processed food, a category so meaninglessly broad, it would wipe out virtually everything stocked on the inner aisles of the average grocery store—not to mention much of what is sold by Sweetgreen’s competitors.

Neman faced backlash after Vice’s Edward Ongweso Jr. reported on the post. The CEO apologized to Sweetgreen’s staff in an email, and later, at a town-hall meeting with employees, acknowledged that indeed “Sweetgreen alone is not going to solve this. Salads alone are not going to solve this,” according to a recording obtained by Vice. Even so, Neman defended the intent of the proposal. And Ongweso has since found evidence that Neman previously advocated similar measures within the company. (Sweetgreen did not respond to multiple interview requests for this article.)

It is, of course, almost hilariously convenient for a man who’s made millions slinging expensive lettuce to believe that the future of the republic might depend on the feds force-feeding people the food he already sells; that salad is the ideal medicine for an incredibly contagious respiratory virus might not be a trustworthy argument coming from a literal salad millionaire. More interesting, though, is how telling Neman’s salvational ramblings are of a harmful conviction about health that America’s wealthiest, most privileged class long ago laundered into common sense: that people who, unlike them, end up sick or poor have simply refused to make the right choices and help themselves. Speculating that America’s health-care crisis could be solved if everyone just had to eat some salad is not only lazy and wrong; it’s perpetuating an attitude that is making health—and the pandemic—worse for millions of people.

As proof for his idea, Neman offered an argument that’s often cited by people looking to reframe America’s pandemic failures as those of individual responsibility instead of institutional rot: According to one CDC study, 79 percent of people hospitalized with severe COVID-19 in the United States in 2020 had a BMI categorized as overweight or obese. The percentage is alarming in a vacuum, and the CDC does assert that high body weight is a risk factor for severe COVID-19. But it’s far from clear that it’s a major risk factor—the CDC’s own numbers suggest that almost 74 percent of all Americans over the age of 20 fall into that same BMI range, which means that, even if weight had no correlation to or effect on outcomes, you’d still expect about three-quarters of those hospitalized with COVID-19 to have a high BMI.

BMI’s uselessness as a proxy for health is a fight for another day, but even if you leave out confounding factors that might help explain the five-point difference—for example, that poor people are more likely to have a high BMI, to delay seeking costly medical treatment, and to work in-person jobs that expose them to the coronavirus—it hardly justifies making cookies illegal. If a bodily variation causes a difference in COVID-19 risk, that doesn’t mean it must be eliminated by force. If you disagree, I’d love to hear your plan for dealing with men, who are much more likely to be hospitalized or die after catching COVID-19 than women.

Neman appended to his LinkedIn post a link to a CNN article that details a report on the global distribution of 2020’s COVID-19 deaths. The report, released in March by the World Obesity Federation, found that the overwhelming majority of deaths occurred in countries where more than half the population has an obese or overweight BMI. CNN used Vietnam’s impressive track record against the pandemic and the nation’s low obesity rates as a foil for Americans’ own failures, both in the pandemic and on the scale.

But ample evidence exists that Vietnam didn’t contain the pandemic because its people are slender. The country relied on the kinds of interventions that aren’t very profitable to outside businesses: proactive governmental action, robust contact tracing, strategic testing, and free food and housing for those who need to quarantine. Vietnam also benefits from a populace whose median age is six years younger than that of the U.S.—a meaningful difference when the worst outcomes of a disease are more closely associated with advanced age than anything else.

The CNN article omits any information about Vietnam’s COVID-19 response or other risk-mitigating population differences. It also doesn’t disclose that the World Obesity Federation is an advocacy group that receives funding from corporations who profit when people are pressured to get thin: a number of pharmaceutical companies that already sell weight-loss drugs or have new ones in much-hyped clinical trials, as well as WW, the diet company formerly known as Weight Watchers.

Neman gets one basic thing right, though, which is what helps these kinds of ideas gain acceptance even among those they might harm, or among those notionally opposed to state punishment for poor health: Fresh, high-quality, nutritionally dense food plays a distressingly minor role in the diet of millions of Americans. Before the government starts slapping chicken nuggets out of your hand, though, it would be useful to consider why that is, beyond the apparent belief that most Americans are too stupid or gluttonous to be given a choice in what they eat. For many of them, the choices don’t exist. Research has shown that poor people know what they’re missing from their diets, and they want quite badly to have those things. Still, the gap between how well high-income people eat and how well low-income people eat has continued to widen.

The problem isn’t them. High-quality ingredients are expensive and time-consuming to prepare when they’re available at all, and people with low wages and long hours—the people most likely to have suffered catastrophic effects of the pandemic, no matter their weight—do not have much time or money to spare. Sweetgreen and restaurants like it exist precisely because so many Americans are time-poor, but they address the problem of food prep only for those who can regularly purchase $15 greens-and-grains bowls. People who now must subsist on frozen dinners and the McDonald’s dollar menu wouldn’t start eating salads topped with salmon and roasted vegetables if their current food sources were taken away, even if they wanted to. Many of them would simply go hungry, which I suppose is one way to lose weight.

Requiring people to prove that they’ve made all the right choices before their lives are valued underpins virtually every cruelty in American health. Lots of people feel no apparent shame in asserting that those without full-time jobs don’t deserve the same access to medical care as those who are more economically productive, or that people with addictions deserve to die or rot in jail for their failures of discipline, or that hospitals should deny life-saving care for COVID-19 to people who are not yet vaccinated.

The people who benefit most from this belief system tend to be those who have parlayed personal advantages into even more enormous personal wealth; they were born on third base and swear they hit a triple. One of Neman’s most prolific forebears in this regard is the Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey, who has been arguing publicly against affordable health care since at least 2009, and who said in January, during the pandemic’s deadly winter spike, that health care wouldn’t be necessary if people would just made the right lifestyle choices, and that medicine wouldn’t solve things; his father, who was an investor in Whole Foods, was also the CEO of a health-care company. Neman and his Sweetgreen business partners met while in school at Georgetown University, and their parents, who helped fund Sweetgreen’s founding, all own their own companies. This is Marie Antoinette telling starving French peasants to eat cake, except the cake story is apocryphal, and this one happened for everyone to see on LinkedIn.

No room exists in this worldview for generosity toward others, or for a basic belief in the inherent value of human life. It’s a policy of coercion and deprivation. Absent from Neman’s call for mandates was any intimation that perhaps the government should use its power to ensure that no American has to choose between low-quality food and starvation; that everyone can find fresh, nutritionally dense, affordable foods in their neighborhood; that people have enough time away from work to prepare meals for themselves and their families if they so choose. Those solutions don’t do much to reinforce the superiority complex of the wealthy, and they probably wouldn’t be very profitable for companies that sell high-end groceries, premade salad, weight-loss pills, or diet plans.

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4 days ago
seattle, wa
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At Karachi Cowboys, Aloo Sliders and Other Delectable Snacks Help Make Community Connections

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A selection of five silver platters filled with the likes of aloo sliders, kheema, and chana masala, with a light red-colored drink in the center.
Chef Nasir Zubair calls the Pakistani and Indian-influenced dishes at Karachi Cowboys “non-traditional traditional.” | Suzi Pratt/Eater Seattle

The Capitol Hill restaurant that opened in early summer draws on chef Nasir Zubair’s Pakistani and Texas roots, bringing warmth to 12th Avenue

Nasir Zubair vividly remembers the first thrill he had cooking — the sense of ownership over a dish and pride in the process. When he was a very young child growing up in Houston, he would taste Pakistani dishes influenced from his dad’s Karachi upbringing and assist his mom in the kitchen. “She would give me a little task like making garlic paste or a certain masala,” he says. “I was a little guy and would peel garlic and ginger, putting it in the food processor and pressing the button. It was like, ‘Oh, cool. I helped make this.’ And so I think often I’ll want to go back to that place.”

Zubair now makes culinary connections to his familial roots at Karachi Cowboys, the new Capitol Hill restaurant he opened with wife Nicole Greenwald earlier this summer. Featuring a mix of Pakistani and Indian dishes, with some Texas barbecue in the mix, the restaurant is now starting to hit its stride. In addition to a more robust dinner menu and completed decor, wine and beer selections have recently been rolled out, and both happy hour and lunch services are on the way soon. “We’re excited to offer more plates and shareable dishes now that our beer and wine licenses have come in,” Zubair says. “And there’s some new tenants that recently moved into our building, so we’re hoping to delight them.”

With a steady stream of customers in the cozy space on 12th Avenue E, the couple appreciates the warm welcome they’ve already received from the neighborhood as they’ve steadily built up the business from its smaller pop-up roots. Karachi Cowboys began in 2019 serving up aloo sliders with tamarind barbecue sauce, pickled cauliflower, and other delectable bar snacks at locations such as Holy Mountain Brewing, Mean Sandwich, Fair Isle Brewing, and Alexandra’s Macarons, earning praise from the Seattle Times, which swooned over its kheema.

The modern dining room at Karachi Cowboys, with pantry items filling shelves in the background and long light wood tables in the foreground lighted by a single overhead lamp. Suzi Pratt/Eater Seattle
A portrait of Karachi Cowboys owners Nicole Greenwald and Nasir Zubair. Suzi Pratt/Eater Seattle
The space at Karachi Cowboys features a retail case with fruit sitting on top (including a pineapple), and a large window with stools looking out onto the street. Suzi Pratt/Eater Seattle

A retail case keeps Karachi Cowboys flexible with a few grab-and-go items.

But the plan was always to create a full-fledged restaurant. With help from a Kickstarter campaign, Zubair and Greenwald bought a location in the historic Ballou Wright Building from wine purveyors Glinda (which is now mainly an online, subscription-based business), and have settled into their groove. They slowly built out the location into a modern, airy dining room, with some touches that nod to Zubair’s roots (the Royal Basmati Rice burlap bags, the neon cowboy hat sign), and included a retail case selling pantry items. “I think having our own space lets us really foster the hospitality and the values that are important to us,” says Greenwald, adding that offering sustainable jobs, as well as profit-sharing for employees, was a key element of the move.

The area itself holds some special significance for the married couple. Around 12 years ago, Zubair worked at the former Stumptown Coffee Roasters location just a few blocks away, and Greenwald was a server at nearby Plum Bistro. Greenwald recalls meeting Zubair when he came into the restaurant to deliver coffee. She gave him her number at the time, although they didn’t start dating until seven years later. “We reconnected, and 12th Avenue has actually been a really big part of our story,” Greenwald says.

But they also recognize that there is a symbol of recent neighborhood trauma right next to the restaurant — the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct. It was just last summer when cops in riot gear tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed demonstrators for nights on end around the building, leading to the short-lived formation of the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP). After much backlash, police eventually withdrew their heavy presence in the area and boarded up the front of the East Precinct building, while city authorities later shut down the CHOP. Even though the thick concrete wall erected as a security measure came down earlier in 2021, the lobby remains closed to the public, a reminder of the deep wounds that are still present from that period.

A closeup of aloo sliders with a side of cabbage. Suzi Pratt/Eater Seattle
Aloo sliders are by far the most popular dish at the restaurant, dressed with a tamarind barbecue sauce.

For their part, Zubair and Greenwald (who is a licensed therapist) do not shy away from the darker side of the block. “There’s a lot of fast driving and sirens, and you can see people still react to some of that, those body trauma memories,” says Greenwald. “That’s something we honestly talk a lot about with customers, and I noticed people will start freely sharing their experiences ... I think we want to acknowledge the impact, while finding a more dignified and healthy way to be together as a community.” Adds Zubair, “We’re trying to add some light and love to a block that’s dealt with a lot in the past year.”

That healing comes through the food primarily, with a menu that reflects Zubair’s background. He shies away from the term “fusion,” rather reflecting on the “non-traditional traditional” dishes that bring together family and cultural influences. And he also wants to lean into the “friendship and camaraderie” he remembers from Texas barbecue culture, where people would swap tips on the best ways to burn charcoal. To that end, in the fall, the restaurant aims to host a Sunday potluck series, inviting other chefs — including former Karachi Cowboys collaborator Kyle Johnson — to do more smoked barbecue-focused dishes on off-days.

As the restaurant industry undergoes dramatic shifts in an ongoing pandemic, Zubair and Greenwald remain nimble. They hope that the passion that goes into the food comes through, but also recognize the value of sharing space. “A lot of people have left the industry altogether, a lot of places closed,” says Greenwald. “ I think there’s a lot to learn and we’re hoping to create a new path forward.”

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5 days ago
seattle, wa
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Pictures and stories from California's aging and/or abandoned hippie communes.

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Pictures and stories from California's aging and/or abandoned hippie communes.

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5 days ago
seattle, wa
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adrienne maree brown Says ‘All Organizing Is Science Fiction’

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Grievers follows Dune, a teenage girl living in Detroit, as she mourns the death of her mother due to H-8, a terrifying virus claiming the lives of Black folks all around the city. As she watches countless loved ones fall prey to the virus, Dune realizes that H-8 is forc... More »
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6 days ago
seattle, wa
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feanor-the-dragon: hurtlittleboy: bama-5sos: copperbadge: drgaellon: raceth...

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These dudes are fucking legit.  They don’t just show up one day in court, either, they actually make friends with the kids and let them know they have a support system and that there are people in the world who care about them and will always have their back.  And less important, but also cool, is that the few times a couple of them have come into my cafe, they’ve been super friendly and polite and when I told one of the guys that I noticed his Bikers Against Child Abuse patch and wanted him to know how awesome I thought he was because of it, he got kind of shy and blushed and said, “The kids are the awesome ones, we just let them know they’re allowed to be brave.”

The source is long, but so, so good. These men and women are available in 36 states, 24 hours a day to stand guard at home, in court, at school, even if the child has a nightmare. Many of them are survivors of childhood abuse as well, and know what it’s like to feel scared and alone.

In court that day, the judge asked the boy, “Are you afraid?” No, the boy said.

Pipes says the judge seemed surprised, and asked, “Why not?”

The boy glanced at Pipes and the other bikers sitting in the front row, two more standing on each side of the courtroom door, and told the judge, “Because my friends are scarier than he is.”

Actual tears.. hnngh

Show me more of people like this, world. I give up on humans too easily.

where do i sign up for this,i want to be in this gang

This is fucking amazing. It may be out of character for me to say this but rock on

Bikers Against Child Abuse was founded in 1995 by a Native American child psychologist whose ride name is Chief, when he came across a young boy who had been subjected to extreme abuse and was too afraid to leave his house. He called the boy to reach out to him, but the only thing that seemed to interest the child was Chief’s bike. Soon, some 20 bikers went to the boy’s neighborhood and were able to draw him out of his house for the first time in weeks.

Chief’s thesis was that a child who has been abused by an adult can benefit psychologically from the presence of even more intimidating adults that they know are on their side. “When we tell a child they don’t have to be afraid, they believe us,” Arizona biker Pipes told “When we tell them we will be there for them, they believe us.”
( Article)

More about BACA, from their site

My parents are a part of this organization and they are metal af

They go on runs to protect the child if they feel even the slightest threatened no matter where. If the child needs them to go on vacation with them, they do. Bikers come from across the nation to watch over and take shifts for these kids. And the best part is once you’re adopted into this family as a BACA kid, you’re always one. Even when you’re 40 and the perp gets released from jail, they’ll come meet with you and find your best options for avoiding the person and maintaining the life you’ve built for yourself. Once a BACA child, always a BACA child. In Florida, there’s 100% rate for identifying the perp based on the child’s testimony. Why? Because BACA stands with the child and supports the child so they feel comfortable enough to point out their attacker.

What’s better than a badass biker gang being on your side???


it’s back! I will always reblog BACA

Damn good people.

I know they wouldn’t consider themselves such, but these people are freaking heroes and the world is a better place because of them. 

Hey folks, it talks about this in the article but its not mentioned in this post, BACA is a 501 © (3) charity that depends in part on donations to help pay for stuff like gas for their bikes. If you want to help, consider donating. 

@copperbadge You like posting about heroes, Sam. Seems like this would be up your alley.

I love these folks! I’ve reblogged them before but it’s wonderful to see the donation information has been added. 

Always reblog. Keep doing what you’re doing y'all.

Guys? This post changed my life. I saw this post. Forever ago. And thought it was only in america… and wished desperately that they could help me. But then I saw it again, during a bad episode, and checked their site. They aren’t just in the USA

They’re in Canada as well and probably other countries. I met and talked with a native guy who runs the place near me. His name is Shaman. I got in, and I’m considered a BACA child now. Despite being 17, turning 18 when I talked to them. They spent time with me when my abuser was over, they gave me therapy resources. They give you something called a ‘level 1′ where they go to your house with as many bikers as they can, i shit you not a solid 20-40 bikers came from even out of province, and met me. I got to choose my biker name and I got a vest with patches on it and my name on it. They all hugged a Teddybear before giving it to me, and told me if I ever felt the BACA bear was running out of love, to give them a call and they’d refill it for me, and then I got a ride on one of their bikes. Just a day or so ago I went to an annual party with them and they we ate food one of them cooked and had a lot of laughs. 

I’ve never felt as loved as I did being a part of the BACA family. They also gave me dog tags with the names, and phone numbers of my 2 workers.  So I can call them whenever I feel scared. 

BACA is an absolutely wonderful group that will do everything in it’s power to help any child whos been abused. 

And it doesn’t end when you’re 18 either. As long as you get in contact/get your level 1 before you’re 18? you’re ALWAYS a BACA kid. I’m 18 now and they still invite me to parties, ask me if I’m okay, and are there for me. They’re still trying to find me resources for therapy. 

BACA has changed my fucking life. 

I hope you all can read this, and reblog it knowing from someone who fucking been with them, that they are absolutely amazing. 

If I ever don’t reblog this, it’s because I am physically being restrained against my will.

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7 days ago
seattle, wa
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