Black Lives Matter, Occupy WS & Whatcom Jail

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Whatcom Citizen guest writes. This is a pseudonym for a local writer whom we know and respect. The writer must remain anonymous. We will explain in a separate post this evening why we are posting an article without a name.

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For nearly a year, the Occupy Wall Street movement dominated headlines. Through direct and disruptive action, they forced the entire country into a discussion about income inequality. It almost looked as if we would take our country back from the moneyed interests. Sadly, we didn’t.

Now, six years later, another social movement, Black Lives Matter, has seized the microphone. Black activists and white allies are putting a spotlight on the systematic physical and emotional abuse of black citizens by law enforcement officers.

Both Occupy and Black Lives Matter have touched very real and substantive nerves in our lives. Both movements used techniques of protest and non-violence to accomplish their goals. So, why did the Occupy movement fall apart?

When Dan Pike evicted the Occupy movement from Maritime Heritage Park he did not give an explanation, but the writing was already on the wall. Nationally, the movement was losing steam and locally, the group had splintered, with two separate websites and organizational structures, each claiming to be the “authentic” Occupy Bellingham. In the course of one year, the movement crumbled.

Part of the collapse was due to a lack of clear, actionable, policy goals. Occupy Wall Street had plenty of clear ideas: income disparity, prosecution of the bankers that ruined our economy, and regulation of Wall Street speculators so it wouldn’t happen again. Yet when it came to putting concepts into specific policy, there was chaos. One Occupy Wall Street victory was the $15 minimum wage, but it needed a life and movement of its own to get passed in Seattle. Without clear and specific policy goals, and ways to motivate public action, Occupy was overwhelmed by confusion and inertia. The moneyed interests crushed them with vigor.

Black Lives Matter is facing similar challenges. When their organizers met with Hillary Clinton, the lack of actionable policy goals immediately became an issue. Black Lives Matter tried to push Clinton into leading a change in public opinion. Clinton said, “You change laws. You change allocation of resources. You change the way systems operate. I don’t believe you change hearts.” She was right; and she succinctly identified what separates a successful people-powered movement from one that will be diverted and destroyed.

As a white, middle-income resident of Whatcom County, I realize I have considerable privilege. I also realize it is not my place to tell activists who or what to be angry about. That said, my concern for the fledgling Black Lives Matter is that by focusing on changing minds instead of policy, they will simply fall victim to the same challenges that brought down Occupy Wall Street. What’s needed is a coherent plan with specific goals for changing policy. The good news for Black Lives Matter is that there are a variety of policies to be changed, starting here in Whatcom County.

On Monday night, Sheriff Bill Elfo appeared on a statewide television news program asserting there are over 500 gang members in Whatcom County. It seems an oddly specific number; a number contrived, perhaps, to justify building a 521-bed jail (if only Bellingham would participate!) as opposed to a 383-bed jail (without Bellingham’s help). Are these gang numbers simply fear tactics on the part of our Sheriff’s department? Should we surrender to such cheap tactics or should we push back with an alternative? This is a discussion we need to have as a community, and it should extend to intrusive law enforcement like predictive policing software.

Construction of a new jail, ongoing abuse of people of color by law enforcement, and inordinate income disparity are all interconnected. For years, systemic violence on the part of law enforcement has been used to pump money out of communities of color and into the pockets of private industry. When the Justice Department examined the police practices in Ferguson, Missouri, they found the police used Black residents as a perverse sort of ATM, filling their coffers through punitive tickets. This money was then doled out to private contractors for new militarized equipment for law enforcement, completing a pipeline from an abused community through government departments to moneyed interests.

If we build a new jail of 521 beds or more, building it will take all our public safety taxing authority for the next 30 years, which is limited by state mandate. Add to that the increased costs to staff it and 30 years worth of maintenance, and rest assured, the idea of turning it over to a private prison company will begin to circulate.

A final thought. Machiavelli, in The Prince, outlined a diabolical way to control a recently seized territory. The Prince is advised to appoint a brutal general to oversee the new territory while the Prince travels elsewhere. In his absence, the general executes all political adversaries, dissidents and potential troublemakers – crushing any potential opposition. When the Prince returns, he feigns horror at the general’s actions and promptly executes him. A grateful population adores the Prince, who now lives without fear of rebels organizing against him.

While they may have had flawed tactics, Occupy Wall Street had the right villain, as does Black Lives Matter. We can and should reform our law enforcement community, but let’s not forget who is the general and who is the Prince. Our law enforcement may need a serious culture change, but in the end, it answers to big business.

About Guest Writer

Citizen Journalist • Member since Jun 15, 2008

Guest Writer is for over 100 articles by individuals who are not writers or contributors. Their actual name and brief info is listed at the top or bottom of their articles.

Comments by Readers

Doug Karlberg

Aug 20, 2015

Interesting and thought provoking article.

One minor gripe.

The Prince in Machiavelli’s example does not represent “big business”.

In reality it represents the most powerful organization on earth—GOVERNMENT

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Wynne Lee

Aug 20, 2015

My understanding is that the 1% County safety sales tax goes to supporting EMS services. The County Exec and others plan to let it expire - maybe to re-allocate to more “criminal” control? I wonder… what will make Whatcom County citizens *truly* safer:  a bigger jail & more police, or continuing (even expanding!) our emergency medical services in the County. Would love to see the data, # of people annually who receive EMS services vs # of people harmed by/involved in illegal activity?

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Dick Conoboy

Aug 20, 2015

Doug - when government is bought by the big corporations there ceases to be much of a distinction between the two.  That is what has happened in the US where any semblance of democracy has been erased.  We live in an oligarchy, pure and simple.  One might also argue a constitutional monarchy with the Supreme Court reigning, ex cathedra.

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Tip Johnson

Aug 20, 2015

It is well past time to unravel this cooked up jail crisis and to identify the roles of the players in this apparent fraud to seize the County budget for a police state.

Remember, most folks who land in jail are our neighbors, friends and family.  The present system leaves them broke, unemployed and bitter.  Shouldn’t we focus on ways to help rather than harm them? Of course there are the bad apples that can’t stay out of trouble and keep landing back in jail, but we need a better breakdown of the jail intake so we don’t waste vast sums incarcerating people unnecessarily.

I believe fully half of the incarcerated in Whatcom County have no need of prolonged high security detention and that neither they nor society will benefit from it. There are better ways to manage people that can’t make bail or pay fines, need to spend a mandatory night or have mental health issues. 

Letting the jail run down and artificially clogging it with folks that don’t need to be there is a poor justification for designing a budget eating lion that will eventually require all discretionary funds for its feeding.  The first place to start is to “just say no” until a bona fide needs assessment has been completed that compares the costs of diversionary services and assistance programs to incarceration.

Let’s help our neighbors, friends and families do better and stay in schools and jobs instead of making their lives impossible and driving them to desperation.

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Dick Conoboy

Aug 20, 2015

There is literally no end to the possibilities to limit the number of incarcerated in our prison-industrial complex or to prevent their return.  I read the following in a recent article in The Nation regarding Pell Grants that Congress, in its characteristically infinite stupidity eliminated a while back.  “The plan to extend Pell Grant access in prisons is described as a “limited pilot program” authorized through a federal financial aid waiver program under the Higher Education Act. Incarcerated adults could apply for grants of up to $5,775 for tuition and related expenses, at college-level programs offered in prison facilities nationwide. Designed to allow for studying long-term effects of education on recidivism, the program moves toward restoring access to Pell Grants for incarcerated people, which Congress removed in the mid-1990s. Read more here: http://www.thenation.com/article/prison-education-reduces-recidivism-by-over-40-percent-why-arent-we-funding-more-of-it/

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Riley Sweeney

Aug 21, 2015

Adding some more information to this discussion, a group of Black Lives Matters activists have launched “Campaign Zero” that is working to provide actionable policy solutions to the law enforcement reform movement. You can find more information here: http://www.joincampaignzero.org/solutions/#solutionsoverview

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Carol Follett

Aug 22, 2015

To Doug: Big Business is government- Why else would they go to the trouble of Citizens United (expanded by McCutcheon v. FEC), ALEC, and the noose around our neck trade acts- WTO, and soon, coming to a Machiavellian country near you, the TPP. The government is creating laws in favor of big business that will supersede any constitutional rights you may think you possess.

Read about what happened to Bruce Radtke posted on this site just a few days ago (local-retired-librarian-injured-by-police), and you will understand why more and bigger jails are being built. With the gang fear tactics we may create our own political prisons of the near future.

Black lives matter. All of our lives matter. That is why we loved the idea of our democracy, our constitution, and our “representational” government. Well, lets get one.

The billionaire “candidate” quoted in this article will not be representing back lives or any citizens’ lives. She is first and foremost about her principality and those of the other princelings as are the other billionaire candidates. There is one exception to the billionaires, i.e. Bernie Sanders

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Doug Karlberg

Aug 23, 2015

Carol, you make some good points, but I think you may have missed mine.

Government is and will likely always be the most powerful organization on earth. For big business to flock to those with power is nothing new, but big business is like a fruit fly. Government is the fruit. Only government can make laws and enforce these law by force. Business cannot do these powerful things.

Because government has so much power, those who desire power graviate to influence government. Our Founding Fathers studied this at length and this is why they wisely created a Constitution that restrains what they thought to be an inevitable and insatiable human weakness that some people are never satified with a little power.

Dividing governmental power, in the end also restrains corporate power. Monopolistic power was well known historically to our Founding Fathers. Remember the Tea Party. A protest about monopolistic power. Kings and Queens regularlly awarded monopolies to favored businesses. particularly in essential goods or services. Reduce governments power, and one reduces the ability of government to award economic power to their friends, which enivitaly mistreated the common citizen.

I do not diagree that some corporations have too much power in the halls of government, but only that independant critial thinking can only lead to understand that the ultimate power resides with government.

The only way that corporations can manipulate the levers of government is because those that WE elect people who allow this to happen. There are no laws forcing government to give power to corporations. This power is given voluntarily by those we elect. Granted corporations dangle monumental amounts of cash and other valuable bribes in front of our politicians, but let’s not forget that our elected leaders are eagerly reaching for these corporate fruits, and WE ELECTED THEM.

Also, what we see and experiance at the hands of our government is a product of both parties. The two paries will blame eachother, but in my view they both share the blame for failing to adequately represent our interests effectively. Both parities have their hands out for cash. They may get it from different donors, but in the end when the take the cash, we have been sold out.

Ultimately we need to do a couple of things that I think our Founding Fathers and the Supreme Court missed. We need to take the vast sums of money out of the election process via Constitutional amendment, returning power to the voter.

This alone will not change much as an educated, independant, and critical thinking citizenry is essential.

If one is drinking the Kool-Aid from either party, this is the government you get.

If one gives their vote to the party, you have lost the power of your vote.

As the Presidential election season is upon us, I find it interesting that each candidate running from both parties has something good to add to this national debate.

What we are seeing though looks more like a democratic revolution, which is exactly as our Founding Father intended when disatisfaction of government runs high. The beats the heck out of a violent revolution.

I hope that we get real change in our government that includes excellence and cost effectiveness, otherwise I fear these frustrations with the political and donor class will only get more intense, the next election cycle.

Clear ineptness, favoritism to donors, union and corporate alike, along with a declining middle class is not a recipe for hapiness with government.

There is a reason why the highest per capita income in the United States in the land surrounding Washington DC, and the reason is not because they are harder working or make better products.

The products and services coming from Washington DC stinks. We are not babies and know this.

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Terry Wechsler

Aug 23, 2015

“We will explain in a separate post this evening why we are posting an article without a name.”

???

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Dick Conoboy

Aug 24, 2015

I posted these two items the other day over at the Whatcom Hawk.

Some nuanced thinking here. Reed, the author, is an associate professor at Illinois State U. An excerpt here: ‘The horizontal organization of Black Lives Matter ensures a diversity of perspectives among participants and even branches. Nevertheless, the now-commonplace claim at the heart of the recent Black Lives Matter protests against Sanders is that white liberals have long reduced racism to class inequality in order to deflect attention from racial disparities. This is not just wrong, but the formulation — which ultimately treats race as unchanging and permanent rather than a product of specific historical and political economic relations — undermines both the cause of racial equality in general and pursuit of equitable treatment in the criminal justice system in particular.’ https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/08/bernie-sanders-black-lives-matter-civil-rights-movement/

And this: Surprise, surprise! Reed did not just fall off the turnip truck. This from Zaid Jilani at Alternet last week. “He [MLK] laid out his proposal of a “grand alliance” between blacks and whites aimed at “eradicating social evils which oppress both white and Negro.” He pointed to high youth unemployment among both groups, and said economic competition would become self-destructive if the two groups did not cooperate. Finally, he warned that if “a few Negro extremists and white extremists manage to divide their people, a tragic result will be the ascendancy of extreme reaction which exploits all people”:”  http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/dr-king-wanted-grand-alliance-blacks-and-whites-build-economic-justice

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Carol Follett

Aug 25, 2015

These are important points to discuss, but I wonder if we can afford to split hairs (and votes) at this time. Please read and the follow the money:

Corrected: Major Figures in Democratic and Republican Money Groups Go Into Business Together

“The founders of Rokk Solutions, a new political consulting firm that serves corporate trade associations and other lobbying ventures, offer their clients an unusual value proposition: whichever party triumphs, they’ll have had a hand in a big-money group that can claim victory.

While bipartisan political consulting firms are a dime a dozen in Washington, D.C., what makes Rokk noteworthy is that it is comprised of campaign operatives with major roles in two big-money groups — one Democratic, one Republican — expected to play major roles in the 2016 elections.

Rokk co-founder Rodell Mollineau was the first president of American Bridge 21st Century, one of the primary Super PACs supporting the bid of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Though he stepped down as president of American Bridge last year, Federal Election Commission reports show that Mollineau is still the treasurer of the group — and his LinkedIn profile describes him as being on the group’s board. Mollineau is also on the board of Working America Education Fund, an organized labor-backed campaign group that helps to elect Democrats.

Rokk co-founder Brian J. Walsh, meanwhile, is leading a nonprofit campaign group called Our Next America, which was formed to support the Republican policy agenda in the Senate. Politico described the group as following in the footsteps of GOP Super PACs that have worked in recent years to elect congressional Republicans. Rob Jesmer, a partner with FP1 Strategies, a consulting firm retained by Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign, will also advise Our Next America. Walsh is the former communications director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

The other Rokk co-founder is Ron Bonjean, a Republican consultant who has worked for Koch Industries to help develop political attacks against company critics.

Rokk, which formally launched in May of this year, says it has already signed clients across a diverse range of industries, including the financial services, healthcare, manufacturing and retail sectors, according to a company press release. For clients, the Rokk team will use “campaign tactics to promote the interests of corporate clients,” according to a story about the firm in CQ Weekly.

Neither Bridge nor Mollineau responded to a request for comment.

The consultants, who fashion themselves professional spin artists, chose the name Rokk because it is Norwegian for “spinning wheel.”

My guess is, Bernie isn’t using these firms- anyone have information to the contrary?

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Ryan M. Ferris

Aug 26, 2015

I have found a number of scholars useful in understanding this issue:

Todd Clear
Sara Wakefield
Michelle Alexander
Ruth Wilson Gilmore

All of them have public personas and books on Kindle. I recommend reading “The New Jim Crow” (Michelle Alexander) most. I have been blogging on this extensively. Here is what I know to date: We have booked about 17k unique individuals about 30k times for about 47k charges in the last 4.5 years. We book about 6500 unique individuals in any given year or about the equivalent of 2% (1 out of 50) of our 210k county populace. The big drivers are “bound” criminogenic cycles: DUI/DWLS, ASSAULT 4/NCO viol, controlled substance/theft +.  None of.these cycles are decreasing. FTA charges tied to these and other charges are numerically the highest. African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics are ‘over represented’ in our jail populace and many others in WA states. This is my conclusion:  Our law, justice, and associated agencies are destroying the families of people of color and poverty, seeting up a pool of desperate and lost young men who will join narcotics trafficking organizations for employment and protection.  I believe the development of narcotic’s trafficking will be facilitated in the future by increased rail and shipping traffic such that our ports and transportation infrastructure will complement existing narcotics trafficking and infrastructure in Long Beach, Oakland and Tacoma.

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Dianne Foster

Aug 26, 2015

Benito Mussolini once said that fascism is the unity of corporations and government.  Well said from an expert.  Add racism and you have Nazism.  The TPP puts corporations over the power of local govenrnments; I can’t even think of a name for that…. watch for a “Citizen Summons to a Citizen Town Hall” coming October 12th, sponsored by Occupy Bellingham and partners.  We will invite Reps Del Bene and Larsen to explain their vote on Fast Track, and have a conversation with us about their future vote on TPP this November.  This town hall will be run by us, not them, and have a panel of experts on the topic.  Stay tuned.

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Junga Subedar

Sep 01, 2015

In this article the writer misinterpreted, at best, that the activists from ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter do not have an agenda/demands‬. At a forum on substance abuse, Hillary Clinton had an impromptu meeting with the activists from BLM. She had the last word about her ‘superior’ theory about changing policy to address the racial divide, “not just hearts”, before their meeting ended. (Full video on Democracy Now: http://www.democracynow.org/…/when_black_lives_matter_met_c….)
The activists never discounted the importance of specific plans and policies in their movement. In the latest critique of Daunasia Yancey and Julius Jones, the unsightly heads of bias and racial stereotypes rear up, again: they don’t have a “plan”, a leader, or specific “demands”. The demands of BLM have been articulated, posted and proclaimed by multiple BLM leaders and groups: see specific demands, in the link to BLACKLIVESMATTTER. Why the constant, biased refrain that discounts the intelligence and incredible, forward thinking minds in their movement, by saying that they need a plan or specific demands?

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Walter Haugen

Sep 04, 2015

Carol - Bernie Sanders may not use the PR firm Rokk, but he has worked hard to bring the pork-barrel F-35 to Burlington, VT. That is why I label him a hypocrite and why I don’t support him.

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