In the age of mass incarceration, in which the U.S. has 25 percent of the world’s prison population, but just 5 percent of the world population of people, we should be following a path that leads to putting fewer people in jail.
The Whatcom Civil Rights Project (WCRP) is aware of some preliminary data that show disproportionate arrests of Black people in Bellingham and Whatcom County (4 to 5.4 times more arrests for Blacks, compared to non-Blacks. FBI and Consensus Data 2013), and higher populations of Aboriginals, Blacks, and Latinos in the county jail:
Incarceration rates in Whatcom County jail:
Looking through a race lens, white people are underrepresented in the jail population:
67 percent of jail population, compared to 87.6 percent of the general population
From Public Records Request by WCRP and provided by the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Department’s 2013 Jail Report
Though these rates may seem appalling, they are probably underestimated: Stop and searches of people of color are not reported by law enforcement and many community members of color have stated that they are cited as “white” when they clearly are not. The disparate impact of more people of color and marginalized people jailed in our communities is the result of various points of failure in our criminal justice system, not just on the first frontline of law enforcement.
The reality of racial profiling and biased policing is a significant and large component of our jail issue, as our arrest and jail population rates indicate. This is a national issue that is widely talked about. We should do not dismiss Bellingham and Whatcom County as exceptional. Science shows racial bias is a nationwide problem. Targeted local communities have known this for years, and mass incarceration is the most recent chapter in a long local history of exclusion, racial violence, and discrimination.
The WCRP strongly urges support for measures that reduce our jail population and provide solutions to alternatives to incarceration:
The Bellingham Herald published this editorial cartoon last Sunday that RJC feels mocks our objections to Bellingham acquiring predictive policing software. It depicts law officers calling local people of color “uninformed individuals” for speaking out against practices that institutionalize racial profiling.
Please send a letter to Herald editor Julie Shirley voicing your objections to this coverage. Here’s a sample -- feel free to use this or adapt to fit your perspective.
I am a community member of Whatcom County and I am writing to express my deepest concern about a cartoon published in the Sunday, August 30, Herald Opinion cartoon section by Rik Dalvit.
The cartoon depicted two police officers ridiculing the response of local communities of color to the police department and Mayor Kelli Linville’s decision to purchase predictive policing software for the City of Bellingham. Local communities of color find that this software can be used to racially profile people of color in this community who frequently experience harassment by local law enforcement agencies.
I believe these concerns are valid, not to be ridiculed, and it is shameful that the Herald would publish such a biased, micro-aggressive, and marginalizing image under the guise of humor. It is already humiliating and dehumanizing to be treated differently from the dominant culture in this community. It is further dehumanizing to be ridiculed for speaking up about it.
I urge you to exercise increased sensitivity in the messages you are sending to the people of color in this community who are growing in population. I also ask that you print a retraction of the cartoon and issue an apology in the cartoon section this Sunday to the people of Whatcom County for publishing this insensitive cartoon.
Let us know that you’ve taken action -- please email email@example.com after submitting your letter to the Herald. We’d like to keep track of how many letters are submitted.
The problem with predictive policing software
You can read more about our objections to the software here. http://www.whatcomcivilrightsproject.org/blog/petition-to-mayor-linville-stop-predictive-policing-in-bellingham. What it boils down to is this: The software plugs in data collected through biased policing to justify increased police patrols of neighborhoods unfairly affected by bias. Bad data in, bad data out.