Four arrested in Bellingham as city workers clear camp at city hall
Four people were arrested Thursday for crimes, including disorderly conduct and assault third degree as city workers started to clear a homeless camp set up outside Bellingham City Hall.
Three officers were assaulted, with no known injuries, according to Bellingham Police Chief Flo Simon.
Bellingham police had moved in to secure the area Thursday morning in order to allow public works crews to clean the camp and library lawn, and to help encampment residents find safe shelter. Streets in the downtown Civic Center area closed to traffic, blocked by police officers as well as people trying to stop the cleanup.
The tent encampment on the lawn in front of Bellingham City Hall started in mid-November, and later expanded to the north lawn of the Central Library. It had been given notice that all people and belongings must be moved by 4 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29.
Officials asked for help encouraging campers to find shelter elsewhere, and said space is available at the Base Camp shelter and at its overflow facility.
An update from the city read: “There have been significant, ongoing safety concerns in and around the encampment for the past several weeks, including a fortified structure containing unknown items outside the front doors. All those at the encampment were given notice and the opportunity to collect or store their property and leave the lawn.”
While the city reported many at the encampment were leaving the area peacefully and willingly, several protesters reportedly assaulted officers who had been maintaining a safety line.
Police Chief Simon made clear in a written statement posted to the city’s website that law enforcement’s responsibility was to establish and maintain a safe working space for public works employees to clean up the lawn in front of the city hall and library.
In a statement from Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood, he acknowledged that the cleanup action was occurring before the stated deadline, and said urgent, emergency action was taken to “protect the safety of all.”
“We initiated the clean up early because we received credible information from multiple sources that caused us to accelerate our plans,” Fleetwood said. “Our civic center was becoming the target of agitators far more intent on mayhem than working toward any social good. More specifically, we received information regarding certain groups known to have a history of confrontation. They put out a call throughout the Northwest to gather in Bellingham on Friday.”
“We acted today to reduce the risk of further injury, violence, and vandalism by those who are using the plight of our community’s most vulnerable to further their own agenda,” he continued.
Last Friday, protesters broke into city hall, forcing the mayor to be escorted out of the building for safety. Online, protesters said they were there to advocate for the homeless who are staying at the large encampment of about 100 tents. Posts in the Facebook group “BOP Mutual Aid” and the Instagram page “Whatcom Focused Youth Movement” called for people to gather. It’s not clear if those causing trouble were part of either group.
Read the full statements from the mayor and police chief, and find updates on the encampment here.