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Protesters form a blockade as a police officer watches and city workers in the background use heavy machinery to clear tents and tarps at Camp 210 in front of Bellingham City Hall, Washington around noon on Jan. 28, 2021. // Photo by Faith Owens

By Nolan Baker, Kaleigh Carroll and Faith Owens

This is a story about an ongoing event. We will be updating this story as new information is made available, and will also be releasing more stories in the future covering the issues in-depth.

On Thursday morning, Bellingham city officials and law enforcement officers began an unexpected sweep of Camp 210, a months-long occupied protest and tent encampment outside Bellingham City Hall. 

Protesters at Camp 210 build a new barricade on the west side of Bellingham City Hall as the police moved forward on Jan. 28, 2021. // Photo by Kaleigh Carroll

The sweep was the culmination of months of stalled negotiations and raised tensions between housing activists and local government. The city indicated earlier in the week that they would begin sweeping the camp at 4 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29. Organizers had been preparing for the sweep and put out calls on social media for supporters to show up on Friday and physically block the city.    

Sometime around 8 a.m. Thursday, at least 40 members of the Bellingham Police Department and the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office arrived at the camp. With them were a number of Bellingham Public Works officials, who came with orange reflective vests, hard hats and construction vehicles. 

At 8:20 a.m., the Bellingham Occupied Protest Mutual Aid Instagram page posted an urgent call for assistance, saying that police had begun removing tents. 

“If you can please show up. Now. Folks homes are being destroyed,” the post said. 

City employees used bulldozers, backhoes and rakes to remove tarps and tents from the area. According to the notice posted by the city on Tuesday, people who had property taken during the sweep will have 60 days to retrieve it by calling 360-778-8850.

Around 150 protestors quickly arrived on the scene. A number of them formed walls using wooden pallets and their own bodies.

Throughout the day, protesters chanted and yelled at the line of police. “Where are they supposed to go?” “We’re not tired,” “All cops are bastards,” and “We protect people, you protect property.”    

An armored vehicle surrounded by border patrol and police officers sits on the sidewalk in front of the Whatcom County District Court across from Camp 210 in Bellingham, Wash. on Jan. 28, 2021. // Photo by Kaleigh Carroll

Some protesters helped camp residents pack their belongings into vehicles to be taken to a new encampment north of Civic Field, near Swift Haven, the newest emergency housing facility operated by HomesNOW! which currently houses 25 residents. 

Crushed tents, soiled clothing and other possessions salvaged from the sweep formed a massive pile on one side of the makeshift encampment near Civic Field, as volunteers and residents began to sift through and reassemble what they could. 

At City Hall, at least 88 law enforcement officers from multiple agencies were equipped with body armor and long guns. More heavily equipped law enforcement officers could be seen spotting from the roof of the courthouse and the windows of City Hall. At least a dozen agents from Customs and Border Patrol were also visible.  

City Councilmember Michael Lilliquist was briefly at the scene. He spoke with several of the protesters about the city’s attempts to deal with the housing crisis. Around 11:43 a.m. he left the scene after being chased down by a different group of protesters. 

City Councilmember Michael Lilliquist speaks with protesters before being chased off by a different group of protesters at Camp 210 in front of Bellingham City Hall, Washington on Jan. 28, 2021. // Photo by Faith Owens

The Whatcom County Jail log reported three arrests in the area on suspicion of assault, reckless endangerment, obstructing a police officer and failure to disperse.

BOP Mutual Aid’s Instagram livestream showed protestors surrounding several police officers while they arrested a resident of the camp.

By 4 p.m., protesters had left the area. Police moved into the camp and city crews began removing tents, pallets and other items left behind.  

Camp 210 was established in November 2020 as an occupied protest on the lawns of City Hall and Bellingham Public Library. The protest aimed to bring attention to the lack of low-barrier shelter options for people dealing with homelessness. 

Tensions between protesters and the city have been escalating since Friday, Jan. 22, when protestors blocked the city’s first attempt to remove the campers. A small number of protesters broke into City Hall to stage a sit-in. In the evening, two people were attacked with a hatchet near the camp, which raised tensions further, though it is still unclear who perpetrated the attack.

At a City Council meeting on Monday, Jan. 25, Mayor Seth Fleetwood condemned the incidents and said that it had become clear that the camp needed to end due to health and safety reasons. He said that if any confrontations arose, city officials were not the aggressors.

In a statement released Monday, the BOP pledged to continue opposing the sweep and fighting for housing for all.  

“The current system is exactly what enables 1500+ people in Whatcom county to live on the streets and in the forests in the first place,” the BOP stated in an Instagram post on Monday. “We call upon you to denounce this violent system and stand with us in demanding that all people deserve safe and secure shelter.”

Reporting contributed by Silvia Leija and Riley Young

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