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Monday, October 19, 2020

Prosecutor candidates face tough questions at public forum

by Atticus Everett

Community leaders from civil justice action groups called on a public forum on Thursday, July 19 to get answers from Whatcom County Prosecutorial candidates James Erb and Eric Richey.

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Junga Subedar, a community lawyer for the Whatcom Civil Rights Project and forum facilitator, began the People’s Forum by reading out some ground rules.

The rules called for all present to engage in positive and specific dialogue, but rule number one was chief: “Concerns of people of color and impacted communities are centered,” Subedar said.

The questions brought attention to concerns regarding racial prejudice in the justice system and the criminalization of homelessness in Whatcom County.

Talia London, representing Red Line Salish Sea, asked the first question. She wanted the candidates’ positions on the give and take between people’s first amendment right to free speech and the process of law and order.

She also asked if they would continue to prosecute the ongoing Interstate 5 case from 2017, in which protestors blocking I-5 were accused of causing a non-fatal car accident. Both candidates gave impassioned defense of the First Amendment and neither answered clearly whether they would continue to prosecute the ongoing I-5 case.

The forum was then called upon to grade the candidates’ answers on a scale from A to F. Some of the audience took issue with the grading system and began to call out and question the appropriateness of grading.

“We want a clear reaction from the panel about how they view the answers given by the candidates,” Subedar said.

Some of the audience were unsatisfied, calling the practice negative. About 15 people walked out of the forum.

Terrence Morris, who represents Black Lives Matter, said when people walked out it told him they were not interested in hearing the concerns of people of color. He said he and other people of impacted communities feel that same “F-you” every day when leaders and the systems they represent turn their backs on the needs and concerns of the marginalized.

Gaby Salazar, a Latina audience member, said it’s common to see white people who are privileged with a dependable showing at any community event, even one called by impacted minority communities, get up and leave when they don’t like something.

“[People of color] can’t leave, or there would be no people there to represent us,” Salazar said.

When asked how they would respond to dangerous hate groups, such as the Proud Boys and the newly-minted Watcom chapter of the national hate group Atomwaffen, neither candidate had a firm grasp on the growing prevalence of violent hate groups active in Whatcom.

Subedar designed the forum with the goal of educating the candidates on the issues that impacted communities face. That function was fulfilled in exchanges between the panel and candidates where they shared experiences and knowledge.

Erb pledged to reduce Whatcom’s incarceration rate by 50 percent, in line with the ACLU’s goal, while Richey agreed to reduce it by 30 percent, a goal he said he finds more realistic. Both pledged to release all non-violent offenders who are currently in Whatcom County Jail because they could not post bail.

Based upon the grading, the forum preferred Erb by a slight margin, a C average over Richey’s D. The coalition leaders were unimpressed by the performance of either candidate, but were glad to have the opportunity to field the concerns of their communities to the candidates face to face.


  1. Sorry for the reverse order of my comments. Please read the last first. When I tried to post my full message, the Post Comment button disappeared.

  2. I thought both candidates acquitted themselves admirably. We are truly blessed in that, by this time next year, Dave McEachran will be an unpleasant sight in our rear view mirror. Either candidate will be a vast improvement . I also thought that both candidates were well aware of their audience and were to some degree playing to it. While I enthusiastically back James Erb, I rated Eric Richey higher on most issues as well–on some questions higher than James. Eric’s fatal flaw is his association with McEachran for whom he has great respect–a respect hardly shared by many of us. While both candidates are Democrats, I expect Richey to pivot some views after the primary to curry favor with the Republicans. I could be wrong and hope I am.

    I did have some questions to ask that would likely have added more space between the two candidates, but this forum was designed for the sponsors to get their views across to the candidates and the audience; thus, there was no audience/larger community involvement other than to listen and rate.

  3. Your timeline is very different from what I remember. In my recall, the impassioned articulate outburst by Terrence Morris came not after the first question, but at the very end of the meeting. Junga had stated that each of the panelists would now share their closing observations, and a group of people were walking out as is so often the case at the end of a meeting. Terrence took it personally, which I thought was an overdetermined reaction. I probably would have left myself had I been in a back row to “beat the traffic” out of the parking lot. I doubt that any of the early leavers intended disrespect. They would have likely done the same for any forum they thought was essentially over. The attendees knew the perspectives of the groups sponsoring the forum and are hugely supportive of these groups.

    I am deeply concerned that so many progressive groups these days who want to better race relations choose to take on those who support their cause but deviate slightly from the group orthodoxy, rather than take on the true villains. They seem hell bent on marginalizing themselves even further. They don’t realize that blasting a supporter for not fully buying into their credo will only drive the supporter further from that credo.

  4. Were the cited ratings of the candidates from the audience as a whole, or from the panel? I thought the panel was extremely tough on their ratings of responses to the early questions, but grew more lenient as the forum continued. I sat next to a bastion of the progressive community in Whatcom County who said she could not complete the evaluation because there were no criteria upon which to base her answers. I said everybody could use their own criteria and not to overthink it. Still, she refrained from evaluating. I wasn’t asked for a composite rating but, if each question were valued equally. my individual ratings would likely have been B+ for James and B- for Eric .

    • Bob,
      Thanks for reaching out. Our reporter used the panel’s grades, which were public at the forum. The public’s ratings were submitted back to Junga Subedar, the forum’s facilitator, for the forum’s own records and information.


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