Friday, April 20, 2012

Skagit County Law officers discuss "Gun Violence and Gun Laws: Stand Your Ground?"

Although Florida is thousands of miles away,  those of us in the Pacific North West could not help but wonder how gun violence, racism and the Castle or Stand Your Ground laws in the National news affect us.   So the Fidalgo Democrats asked Anacortes Police Chief Bonnie Bower and Skagit County Sheriff Will Reichardt to address these issues during their monthly meeting at the Anacortes Public Library April 17th.   

Chief Bower surprised me and maybe others with the long list of gun regulations enacted since our country was founded.   Sheriff Reichardt claimed that there had not been a strong correlation in the number of guns owned by WA state residents and gun violence.  He remarked that most violent crimes were committed with stolen guns.  WA state has extensive requirements for concealed weapons which seems to be effective in promoting responsible gun ownership. 

 The castle doctrine ( the right to defend yourself against an intruder into your home) is not a law but a principle from 17th century English common law.  WA State Senate Bill 5418 would make the castle doctrine into law.   Chief Bower credited the impetus to extend  the Castle doctrine  with  “Stand Your Ground” to the Clint Eastwood 1985 movie “Dirty Harry”  e.g “do something that will allow me to shoot you”.  The “Stand Your Ground” law promoted by the NRA varies from State to state.  In Florida the law allows immunity from arrest to the shooter if he/she meets certain criteria. This can take time for the police to verify.  This  caused a delay in police taking action against George Zimmerman in Florida after he shot an unarmed 17-year-old - Trayvon Martin.  In the Trayvon Martin case the relevant part of the statue says that “a person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked . . . has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm.”  In WA there is “Stand Your Ground” case law which can be invoked during trial but, unlike the Florida statute , it does not provide immunity from arrest.  I had the impression from talking with Sheriff Reichardt that he favored the status quo in WA because immunity from arrest outside of the defendent's home or vehicle would require a complicated set of  determinations that would be better handled in court than by the police.  I too think these decisions would place a tremendous burden on the police to determine guilt or innocence . 

As I glanced at the audience most seemed to have pale faces, but there was some mention of excessive gun violence towards African American males and one woman pointed out an incident where a black man was convicted in spite of the castle doctrine when he was defending his home.  A few in attendance had open carry weapons at the meeting, even though others were wary of people wearing guns into a public library.  Several in the audience spoke passionately about the need to carry weapons.  One even said Trayvon Martin would have been better off had he a gun.  In which case,  I think,  it would have been harder to assume Trayvon’s  innocence and the injustice of  Zimmerman’s stalking. Both men would probably be dead. The wild west lives on in the heart of some. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Whatcom Women Democrats Discuss Child Protective Services

On April 9, Spring made an appearance in Bellingham, WA as the Whatcom Women Democrats held their monthly meeting at the Super Buffet off the Guide Meridian. 

A recurring topic of passionate discussion in Whatcom County is the governance of the Port of Bellingham.  According to law, the Port of Bellingham is to be run by an elected committee of five Commisioners, but in fact there an now only three.  Actually only one person has  been making the decisions that impact the Port.  Currently serving are Scott Walker, District 1, Michael McAuley District 2, and Jim Jorgensen District 3.  Website gives enlightening and informative news and notes on how the Port operates.  To participate in the process, the public is welcome to attend monthly Port meetings on the first and third Tuesday of the month at 3pm - location and details available on the above website. 

The April program featured a presentation about Child Protective Services (CPS) and the lawsuit and legislative changes designed to privatize CPS case management services.   Unionized social workers object to case management services being contracted out to for profit non-union companies without adequate testing by the State of Washington. 

South Bellingham Democratic Caucus

Sunday afternoon a robust crowd of 30+ Democrat supporters gathered at Fairhaven Middle School as one of the 20 Whatcom County district caucus meetings.  PCO Maggie Hanson opened the table for registration of all Precinct #245 (Fairhaven/Chuckanut neighborhoods loosely defined) participants.  Registration is a formal process by which a voter declares a party (Democratic) and indicate a candidate preference for president.  Among the attending voters up to 12 delegates are selected to proceed to the County Level Caucus.  Current policy only allows 15% of those 12 delegates to have undecided/undeclared status on their certification.   We had only 11 voters at the event.    Eight people registered were approved by PCO Hanson to be delegates to the Whatcom County Caucus April 28.  Of those delegates, 6 declared themselves Obama supporters and 2 were undecided.

After delegate selection the floor was opened for discussion of the 2012 Democratic Platform.  Precinct 245 was passionate about coal refining, so they included some revisions in the current Platform proposals.  In the past, Whatcom County has required a two thirds majority vote (aka a "Super-Majority") rather than just a fifty-one percent majority (aka "Simple Majority").  Given a limited time frame for revisions, (the hall was actually being dismantled as we were still meeting at our table); two broad revised proposals were approved and the delegates agreed to continue the discussions directly with the Platform Committee at the April 28 County Caucus.  The Platform Committee deadline is 11am Wednesday for inclusion April 28.  This has been an ongoing project since 2010, and updates are published every other year.

In summary, the delegates chose 3 items for closer inspection.  Environment, Education and Foreign Policy.  Delegates want to expand the scope of the Environmental Impact Studies (EIS) relating to the rail transport of coal through Whatcom County.  Delegates also want to withdraw support for Charter and Voucher schools that involve for-profit/anti union entities and maintain funding for public schools.