A crowd of about a hundred gathered around the steps of the Whatcom County Courthouse in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement on May 1, renewing the community’s call to defund the Bellingham Police Department.
The demonstration did not assemble the kind of attendance seen last spring, but protesters took to the streets of sunny downtown Bellingham calling for reform and a reimagining of public safety.
Signs raised by the group said “respect existence or expect resistance,” “Black Trans Lives Matter” and “stop state sanctioned violence.”
The march started from the courthouse and went up Commercial Street after passing Bellingham City Hall, where the local government recently adopted a police department budget tallying close to $60 million over the next two years.
After turning right on West Champion Street, avoiding the busiest parts of downtown Bellingham, the group walked along Prospect Street back to the courthouse.
Banging could be heard from inside the courthouse jail’s window blinds as protestors chanted “free them all.”
Chalk notes on the ground read “reform police education,” “Abolish BDP” and “this is what community looks like.”
The crowd gathered before heading to the Bellingham police precinct up the road; there was no law enforcement present during the whole demonstration, which was an unpermitted march.
Some protesters shielded the march with their cars, driving slowly both ahead and behind the demonstrators who were walking down the streets chanting, “No justice, no peace, no racist police!”
The event was peaceful on the protesters’ side, but there were disturbances from passersby and oncoming traffic. A car tried to swerve around the blockade formed by the cars shielding the crowd, hitting one of the cars and fleeing the scene.
The public information officer for the Bellingham Police Department, Lt. Claudia Murphy, said the dispatch logs for May 1 did not show any reports of a hit-and-run collision.
“If someone used our online reporting system to make that report afterward, it may take a couple of days for that to show up,” Murphy said. “If you know the person whose car was hit, please encourage them to make the report to us.”
The protester in the car was not injured, but the fleeting moment got members of the crowd to increase radio communications and their awareness of other passing vehicles.
This February, a King County sheriff’s detective was fired for a series of offensive Facebook posts, including a meme making light of car attacks against Black Lives Matter protesters that was posted on the same day a driver hit two protesters on Interstate 5. One of the protestors later died.
Blockades such as the one seen this weekend in Bellingham are used by protesters to protect the crowd.
Murphy said that while a permit was not obtained to block the roadway, the lack of a permit did not give other community members the right to endanger marchers.
Murphy said there are several reasons private citizens should not take matters into their own hands and block streets or have rolling barricades.
“It is inherently unsafe, most are not properly trained to direct or re-direct traffic, first responders — fire, ambulance and police — are not aware of the road closures, and neither are those responsible for public transportation,” Murphy said. “The safest thing to do is to obtain a permit if the intention is to block roadways. Otherwise, stick to the sidewalks and obey the traffic laws.”
About two hours after it first gathered, the crowd dispersed leaving the empty precinct parking lot. The demonstration in front of the precinct lasted for about 40 minutes and while attendees were peaceful, Murphy said there were incidents of graffiti which were cleaned up shortly after the end of the protest.
Clifford Heberden (he/him) is the City News Editor for The Front. He’s a third year News/Ed major planning to minor in Philosophy. With his reporting, he’s mainly focused on local and state-wide environmental news and legislation but has also worked to report on social issues in Whatcom County. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
His Twitter handle is @cliffbutonline.