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BREAKING: Protesters gather to demand end to sweeps, amnesty for detained activists

Activists denounce city’s handling of housing crisis; call for no-barrier shelter, amnesty for detained protesters

Bellingham City Hall was home to the homeless encampment Camp 210 until Jan. 28, 2021. On February 20, 2021, it was the site of a protest to demand an end to sweeps, organized by multiple mutual aid groups. // Courtesy of Jimmy Emerson DVM via flickr

By Faith Owens

A group of about 70 people gathered the afternoon of Feb. 20 to protest the Bellingham Police Department and its role in the policing of homelessness in the city. The protest, promoted as “You Sweep, We Strike,” had three demands: amnesty for protesters and campers who were arrested and investigated during and after the sweep on Jan. 28; a ban on sweeps; and permanent, no-barrier accessible housing. There was no visible police presence for the duration of the event, which had been promoted on social media in advance.

The protest, which was organized by multiple mutual aid groups including Bellingham Occupied Protest Mutual Aid and Happy Valley Mutual Aid, began around 12:25 p.m. on the steps of the Whatcom County Courthouse at the corner of Grand Avenue and Lottie Street. Two speakers, including one person who is homeless and has been affected by sweeps, addressed the crowd. 

BOP Mutual Aid demanded “justice for J28,” a reference to those arrested during the Jan. 28 sweep in an Instagram post on Feb. 17. 

“Instead of focusing on getting and keeping community members housed through this cold winter (and beyond), the City of Bellingham has chosen to prioritize the 27+ ongoing investigations surrounding the eviction defense and relocation that occurred on [Jan. 28],” the post said.

Protesters marched to the Bellingham Police Department Precinct, where they chanted phrases such as “free them all,” “ACAB — all cops are bastards,” “no cops, no KKK, no fascist USA,” “every city, every town, burn that precinct to that ground,” and “we protect people, you protect property.” Around 1 p.m., protesters began blocking the streets to cars and set a flag ablaze in front of the precinct, which was put out soon after.

The march continued around Whatcom County Jail, where protesters blocked Prospect Street and chanted “we love you, we miss you, we will get justice for you” to people who were arrested at the sweep on Jan. 28 and remain jailed.

Police arrested at least six people when they swept the encampment outside City Hall on Jan. 28.

The march circled the courthouse and jail one more time before disbanding at around 1:50 p.m. 

Two counter-protesters were present, both armed with guns. They remained primarily on the outside of the crowd and shouted at them, occasionally reminding onlookers that they were armed. One of them appeared to record what was happening on his phone. The collective that organized Camp 210 has objected to people photographing or videotaping protests. Images from previous protests have been used by police and prosecutors in an effort to identify participants.

Organizers also encouraged people who did not attend the march to participate online by contacting elected officials in support of the demands and write letters to those currently incarcerated.

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