Why there was reform to talk about at the Whatcom County Community Justice Forum / Noisy Waters Northwest

Click the graphic image of the Whatcom County Courthouse with people on the steps and a branch in the foreground to access audio recording of the Whatcom Community Justice Forum on Soundcloud

July 26, 2019 Dena Jensen

I listened to the KGMI recording of the Whatcom Community Justice Forum today. There was a lot of good information presented, however it did seem rather like a giant campaign ad for Sheriff Elfo with a final plug for a new jail thrown in at the end. There was actually less focus on a new jail in the forum, though, than there was when Sheriff Elfo was on KGMI’s Saturday Morning Live radio broadcast last weekend.  

The forum was put on by Common Threads Northwest, and in that sense it was unfortunate that people participated and attended. Common Threads Northwest leadership, which includes people such as KGMI’s Kris Halterman and Dick Donahue, has continued to push forward an anti-tribal treaty, anti-tribal sovereignty agenda. The non-profit organization runs events often co-sponsored by the Citizens Alliance for Property Rights that also prominently promotes an anti-tribal treaty and anti-tribal sovereignty agenda. 

Numerous individuals running for office this election season attended, and were pointed out by the emcee for the event, Dick Donahue. Candidates present at the forum, in the order they were announced by Mr. Donohue, were Tony Larson, Jim Boyle, Satpal Sidhu, Kathy Kershner, Ben Elenbaas, David Ramirez, Pinky Vargas, and a couple others that called out from the audience off-mic, plus, of course, Sheriff Elfo.

Speakers included Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo, Anne Deacon who is the Human Services manager for the Whatcom County Health Department, Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Richey, Skagit County Commissioner Ron Wesen, and Mike Hudson, director of the Skagit Valley Reach Center, among others.

There was a lot of talk about justice reform at the event.  But many of the presenters were people who have been significantly pushed forward in their ability to embrace reform. The folks who have done that pushing with substantial research performed, and attention and accountability applied, have often been part of groups like the Restorative Community Coalition, the Vera Institute, various campaigns against the Ferndale jail, along with other investigative and innovative influencers such as citizen journalists and individuals involved with Whatcom County’s Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force. These are the people who didn’t allow those working in Whatcom County agencies like the Sheriff’s Office, the Health Department, or the Prosecutor’s Office to remain imprisoned or shackled in past unjust, inhumane, and failed approaches. 

I am sure things are not quite the same kind of rosy that Sheriff Elfo and others portrayed at the forum, but progress has happened and we all need to continue to help support those bringing innovative, compassionate, humane, and effective solutions forward while we work on more and better mental and behavioral health options, especially ones that employ workers who are valued and empowered to give the best treatment possible.

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