[Guest Writer Adam Bellingar is a lifelong Bellingham resident. He owns Traditional Karate of Bellingham where he teaches martial arts. You can usually spot him running around Lake Padden. ]
I wish to provide my own reasoning for voting for the tax to construct a new jail. My perspective is driven by my own experience with lawlessness around 22 North—a 40 unit permanent-supportive housing project that, starting back in 2018, began to degenerate into an open air drug market that continues today. In 2022, Dick Conoboy reported on 22 North—I recommend you read his article, Is 22 North Going South, and the first hand accounts.
The business I have had since 2013 shares the alley with 22 North. It started as a joint venture between the Opportunity Council and Northwest Youth Services in November of 2018. The crime started on day one and accelerated into 2022 when numerous people died both inside and outside the building. I’m including a list (see FILES below) of all the police incident reports for 2018 to 2021 to give a sense of the escalation going into 2022. There were 156 incident reports for the location in 2019 alone. 22 North was widely regarded as the fentanyl capital of Bellingham until 2022 when the Bellingham Police Department (BPD) conducted a large scale raid on the drug dealers operating out of the building.
While the individuals below deserve much better, here is a brief description of their demise:
In January 2022, Desiree Faliciano died in a nearby encampment from methamphetamine intoxication. Her burned body was discovered when police investigated a fire at the encampment.
In February 2022, Kassaundra Booker was murdered in the stairwell of 22 North over a $40 drug debt. She was shot in the head after smoking fentanyl with her accused murderer.
In June 2022, Jordan Terry died of acute fentanyl and ethanol intoxication a half-block from 22 North. Mr. Terry had fetal alcohol syndrome as a child and struggled with addiction.
In August 2022, Ward Simmonds Jr. died of acute fentanyl, methamphetamine, and ethanol intoxication. Mr. Simmonds was a Lummi Tribal member who developed a fentanyl habit after the death of his wife.
During 2022, my neighbors and I began protesting loudly against the crime we had all been witnessing. We called on the police and our elected officials to respond immediately. Once we coordinated with law enforcement and elected officials, we learned that there were clear reasons why the lawlessness couldn’t be resolved in short order: there was no room in the jail for the people committing most of the violent crimes we witnessed.
A jail’s primary purpose is to serve as a timeout for criminal acts. This timeout function is essential to allow the justice system to work. It provides essential relief for the victims of criminal acts. If you can’t get respite from your tormentor, you get no justice. The timeout function of the jail allows the defense attorneys, prosecutors, police, and courts time to facilitate justice via court hearings where the truth is sussed out.
Looking into the jail as it sits today, there are 148 beds to service the county’s population of over 230,000 (.06%). This doesn’t make sense. While the original jail was built to last 50 years, it wasn’t built for capacity of the current population of Whatcom County or its accused. We’ve had jail booking restrictions since 2015 - meaning we don’t have room in the jail for every person accused of a jail-able offense. Our justice system is now at the point of having to decide which violent acts should be jail-able based jail capacity - NOT LAW! I’ve personally witnessed the same offenders commit crimes over and over again… escalating their criminal activity.
We’ve built up diversion programs in response to this crisis, but they have reached their limits. Multiple individuals in these diversion programs have been present at 22 North. One man has over 25 police incident reports with BPD and yet still stalks a female at 22 North. When I asked why his arrests hadn’t resulted in jail time, I was told that arrests on the jail log don’t mean jail time. In fact, most of the folks “arrested” don’t see the inside of a jail cell in Bellingham. Again, this doesn’t make sense to me.
When I think about who suffers the most from a lack of jail capacity, it is the poor. If a middle class white person suffers from a crime, they often have insurance and support to work through the inconvenience. The poor have no such backstop. A woman and child suffering from domestic abuse but cannot get relief from their abuser - suffers mightily. This lack of jail capacity only hurts the most vulnerable. I’ve seen these folks suffer personally and it haunts me. We cannot allow injustices to propagate the way they have been over the past number of years.
We clearly need more capacity for our jail. There is no perfect jail, but what we are allowing to happen with our current jail is clearly and terribly wrong. This is why I’m voting yes on Proposition 4.