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Statement and People’s Forum Results

In #BlackLivesMatter, Immigration, Racial Justice, Video by Liisa

People’s Forum: Candidates for Prosecutor

We, a coalition of impacted groups, organized this forum because the decisions and policies
from the Whatcom County Prosecutor’s office has dramatic and immediate impact on local
People and Communities of Color. Incarceration, abuse and discriminatory policies have caused
loss of employment to trauma and long term harm in our communities. On a broader scale, the
ongoing discriminatory policies and practices from this office has contributed to a tenfold
increase in local incarceration rates, though rates for violent crimes has decreased. The criminal
justice system (punishment system) hurts our people and families in some of the most dramatic
ways.

We were happy to hear from both candidates that they are committed to reducing systemic
racism. And regardless of who is elected, we encourage each of them to dismantle white
supremacy and systemic racism in whatever ways they are able. We encourage them to take
direction and leadership from impacted communities. We, however, are not endorsing either of
the candidates for prosecutor.

Forum Report Card

One candidate repeated that he was the candidate for change. And the other candidate
advocated for almost as many changes. But neither candidate has a good track record of
pushing for and implementing reforms to reduce the effects of racism in our system. And for
years, both have assisted their respective governmental departments in perpetuating systemic
racism. We must ask what kind of change, to what extent and is it enough? Because if we don’t
make the right changes now, we will be in a worse situation than what we are now. People are
tired of moderate reform and hearing hot button words which have been increasingly co-opted
by the establishment and their proponents. In the “Lightening Round” portion of the forum

  • Eric Richey committed to civilian oversight, but James Erb did not.
  • Both candidates committed to substantially decreasing incarceration, not supporting a
    larger jail, making hate crimes a priority, and prosecuting persons or corporations who
    exploit farmworkers in our county. These are all important commitments to which we
    should hold accountable whomever is elected.
  • Neither really answered the critical question of why Indigenous People and Black People
    are incarcerated disproportionately in the Whatcom County Jail.

Radical change will need to be based in a thorough understanding of the causes of systemic
racism and white supremacy. Based on their track records, and the answers and responses
which are on record, there isn’t a significant difference between these two candidates. For our
communities and groups, the question is who is actually going to implement the changes we
need, and how do we hold them accountable.

The small exodus of White people at the beginning of the forum was telling and illustrative of
their lack of commitment to our concerns and the issues. They repeatedly shouted and
interrupted the forum before they walked out. They didn’t take the time to first listen to the
questions from the panel. They didn’t learn or adhere to the ground rules carefully laid out in
the beginning and posted in the front of the room on each side. This is the only event in which
such pointed questions were asked. Thus far, this forum was also the only one where we asked
for and witnessed clear answers and concrete commitments from the candidates on critical
issues from Communities of Color. The people who walked out were so blinded by their racism
and conditioned by a culture of white supremacy, they could not see the value and gift of this
forum. Sadly, this is often the attitude of Bellingham’s White People when People of Color have
something important to say.

The following are our demands toward “a reimagined prison system” that would idealistically
strive to put itself out of business:

  • Reliable, comprehensive race data collection shared with the public
  • Smaller jail and shrunken criminal justice system
  •  Alternatives that include treatment for mental health and drug addiction outside of the
    criminal justice system (i.e. outside of jail or prison, before arrest and without the need
    for electronic home monitoring for people who have not been convicted of a crime)
  • No bail, especially for the homeless or poor (who make up 60-75% of the people in the
    jail) and for low level offenses
  • Analysis of racial bias and discriminatory treatment for any new policies or practices,
    including pre-trial risk assessment.

We imagine a justice system and community that is compassionate, dignified and allows
everyone to thrive, not only the wealthy or privileged.

Link to watch full video recording of forum