In light of the recent death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore and allegations of police brutality connected to his death, nearly 60 people came to protest in downtown’s Depot Market Square on Saturday, May 9.
Gray, an African American man, died of a spinal injury after being arrested by Baltimore police. Since then, six police officers have been suspended amid a criminal investigation.
“I have lived through martial law. I have been thrown on the ground and somewhat abused for never doing anything wrong, just being in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time,” former Western professor Joseph Garcia said. “I’ve seen a continuous militarization of the police and I’d like to see that trend reversed.”
Garcia, who previously taught management classes at Western, expressed that while he thinks many minorities are dealing with racial judgements and assumptions, he believes the black community is taking most of the heat.
“I think not just black lives matter, all lives matter. But right now there’s a focus on racial biasing and profiling, and I think that needs to be addressed before it gets out of hand,” Garcia said.
Belen Maldonado, a 17-year-old high school student who is currently taking classes at Bellingham Technical College, was the individual who organized the protest with the help of friends and other supporters.
“I can’t really just stand around and watch this injustice happen and not do anything about it,” Maldonado said.
While Maldonado said Bellingham is a peaceful town, the minority community still faces injustice.
Kim Harris, a Western alumna who came to support the high school students who organized the protest, is the media spokesperson for the Racial Justice Coalition of Bellingham and wanted to do her part to make a difference.
The Racial Justice Coalition is a community-based organization founded in December 2014 in order to combat racism and racial profiling in Whatcom County, according to the coalition website.
“My hope is to raise awareness about the injustices in law enforcement. We don’t have any recent killings of African Americans in our direct community. However, we want to be proactive about policies in our local police departments to prevent that,” Harris said.
Harris and the other individuals working for the Racial Justice Coalition are working on an ordinance to be sent to the local law enforcement offices in the hopes of creating some harmony between the community and law enforcers.
While the ordinance is still under construction, it consists of several goals the group would like to see met, Harris said.
These goals include accountability and data tracking in law enforcement, which would force police officers to write more detailed reports of responses, implicit bias training for police officers, having citizens on the advisory board for law enforcement who are appointed by community members, and keeping the Bellingham and Whatcom County police from being militarized, she said.
The group plans to finish compiling this ordinance and have it approved by the mayor, Harris said.
“We want to work hand in hand; it’s not an antagonistic thing,” she said. “We want to be collaborative.”
The ordinance would create some positive steps forward for the Bellingham and surrounding communities, Harris said.
Garcia fears the police are becoming their own entity apart from the community and wants to see this trend reversed to allow the law enforcement officers and the community to work hand in hand.
“I support police very much. I want to have the protection of police, but when the police start becoming a sub-culture in our society, that needs to change,” Garcia said.
Harris will be conducting a panel discussion called “Students Helping Students,” that will deal with topics pertaining to race on Saturday, May 30, at Whatcom Community College.