Protesters clash with police in Bellingham; homeless encampment cleared

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Bellingham brought out a massive police response on Thursday, as the city moved to clear out a homeless camp outside its City Hall — a day earlier than planned.

Protesters showed up to try and stop the police. They held up pallets and formed a human barricade, standing right up against the line of officers.

“We need more bodies!” the group shouted at one point.

Police ended up arresting four protesters for assaulting officers and disorderly conduct.

Mayor Seth Fleetwood said the camp has been a source of trouble for months.

“We have seen tensions rise and an increase in violence, threats to people who walk by, mental health episodes, likely drug transactions and other criminal behavior,” Fleetwood said.

“During the process of posting notices, Bellingham Public Works employees were harassed, chased, and a person from the encampment tried to jump into their vehicle presumably to steal it. And keep them from posting signs and doing their job,” said Bellingham police Chief Flo Simon.

Some people who live in the area were upset about the city’s response, especially by the size of the police response.

“I feel troubled about it,” said Aiden Ellsworth, a student at Western Washington University. “Why are there armed guards? Why are there people on the roofs? No one is starting violence,” he said.

Ellsworth said he came to support the protesters and homeless community and help out where needed.

But others said the protesters have gone too far. Jacklyn Reed, a Bellingham resident, said she was homeless for a few months in 2020.

“It’s just not a good thing right now. It’s not helping anyone’s case,” Reed said. “Yeah, there’s a homeless problem, but they could’ve handled it so much better. The protesters and even the homeless people,” she said.

The city was supposed to clear out the camp on Friday, Jan. 29. But Fleetwood said he authorized the cleanup a day early because the city received credible information that the effort would be “the target of agitators,” and groups known to have a history of confrontation had put out a call to gather.

“Some of the groups coming out here claimed to be from Antifa. And they were calling for groups all the way from Portland to come to Bellingham and disrupt the cleanup that was to occur,” Simon said.

Last Friday, Jan. 22, a group of protesters showed up to protest and caused trouble in response to the city asking campers to move 25 feet away from city and county buildings.

The response from law enforcement included Bellingham police, Washington State Patrol, Whatcom County sheriff’s deputies and even federal Border Patrol agents — all in riot gear.

“I so happy they’re here. I’ve thanked so many of them,” Reed said. “Just the other day, someone in the camp got hit with a hatchet. It’s just pretty dangerous, and I’m just glad they’re here to help,” she said.

Police confirmed there were assaults recently involving “hatchets, baseball bats, and broken pieces of wood.”

The city had the area cleared by about 5 p.m. Thursday.

A spokesperson from Public Works said the city has about 240 shelter beds available in partnership with two churches in the area. The intent was to move people to the shelters.

However, the shelter spaces do not allow drugs or drug use on the premises, and the city was not sure as of Thursday afternoon how many people were accepted.

Dozens of volunteers were helping move folks to Civic Field nearby, which the city stated is another unsanctioned encampment.

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