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:
18 percent for Native people, compared to 3.2 percent of the population
5 percent for Black people, compared to 1.2 percent of the population
67 percent of jail population, compared to 87.6 percent of the general population
Studies prove that white people use drugs 5 times more than Black people, yet Black people are incarcerated 10 times more than white people for drug offenses. [NAACP, Sentencing Project.]
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:
- Reduce the size of our current jail and the mass incarceration culture in our county will be forced to change;
- Mandate racial bias training for judges and law enforcement officers;
- Mandate the complete collection of race data, including all stops, searches and sentencing;
- Share race data in a way that can be easily understood by the public;
- Implement a civilian oversight commission that audits the collection of data by law
enforcement and other oversight matters;
- Redefine racial profiling to disallow stopping people on the basis of race;
- Eliminate the bail system, which unfairly targets the poor for incarceration.
- Implement meaningful community policing alternatives such as L.E.A.D. and Smart Justice, which have proved effective in reducing crime.