February 19, 2021 Dena Jensen
Here is an email I sent this morning:
Subject: The goal is to marginalize no one
Dear Mayor Fleetwood, Bellingham City Council, Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department, and Homeless Strategies Workgroup Members:
First, thank you for efforts to arrange and provide the warming shelter to people who were facing our coldest week of weather this winter. Winter persists, so let’s promptly build on that success and continue to bring timely efforts to fruition.
I am additionally writing to call attention to what I see as a related topic and significant flaw in the approach from Bellingham Police Department leadership, and some of our other government agency representatives in our region, that is showing up related to the City of Bellingham’s sweep of Camp 210. When an imposing militaristic law enforcement presence is facing off with protesters who are subsequently being snubbed and/or vilified in statements from those such as Bellingham Police Chief Simon, Public Information Officer Claudia Murphy, or the Whatcom County Health Department’s Anne Deacon, the input from community members in numerous 2020 race and justice forums and listening sessions prior to the winter season seems to have been outright rejected.
I have taken many notes recording community contributions from those sessions, the recurring themes being: demilitarizing our law enforcement; implementing civilian oversight; preventing our law enforcement officers from remaining the front line of racial and other kinds of oppression in our community; building trust in government and law enforcement within the immigrant community and beyond; increasing mental health and sheltering solutions; creating healing opportunities and resources for community members who are continually being deprived of those. The armed sweep of Camp 210 and the ensuing City and County agency onslaught of negative narrative against protestors (and perceived threats of them) seems a stark demonstration of much of what community members were educating officials to avoid during the past year that preceded it.
Regarding resources for our unsheltered community members, I understood and supported the need of our government agencies to work to keep the Lighthouse Mission’s emergency shelter running at a level that included ample COVID-19 protections. And I am thankful for motel stays being funded for families with children. Moreover, I am encouraged that City and County agencies were propelled by strong and unfailing community engagement to finally develop at least one additional tiny home community at Swift Haven, and open the week-long warming center during a string of the bitterest days our unsheltered neighbors have suffered, which followed weeks upon weeks of rainy, freezing, and/or windy days.
What is damaging and disgraceful to me, however, is for government agency leadership to paint community members who have raised their voices and have volunteered for many weeks, helping to organize – on the fly – food, warmth, emergency health care, and a sense of community for the unsheltered people who came to camp at 210 Lottie Street, as uncaring. Official comments have been made minimizing the number of people who came to camp there. Claims of, at or under, 50% occupancy at Camp 210 were made by Chief Simon, while at the same time claims were being made on the City of Bellingham website that portrayed rampant fear of City, County, and non-profit employees to enter and gain a sense of the camp at all. Fear and chaos at the camp have been spotlighted by official statements; organization, persistence, generosity, ingenuity, and sacrifice of volunteers and residents have not.
The Bellingham Police Department’s Facebook page has numerous wanted posts for a number of young Camp 210 defenders – the type of community members for whom our law enforcement agencies have been called to develop a relationship of trust. Except for just listening, it has been illustrated that agencies failed to take action that would foster that trust. For example, the use of facilitators which was employed at the race and justice sessions months earlier was discarded when complex negotiations for new and more diverse sheltering solutions were taking place. When community members voiced their sense of betrayal an abandonment at civic meetings, few leaders practiced any deescalation and mediation techniques they may have learned in trainings to help speakers feel heard.
One of the posts on the BPD Facebook page featured a 10 minute montage of body cam footage of some protesters, in an escalated state, being pushed back by officers. There was text displayed early in the video before the body cam segments started, stating that campers were removing their items peacefully during the seven o’clock hour that morning of January 28th, and that:
“By 9:15 am, the majority of campers on the northwest lawn behind the police line have peacefully removed their belongings.
“The police line remained to protect Public Works employees from protesters’ attempts to disrupt their cleanup work.”
When looking at the time counters on the body cam footage, nine of the 10 segments – those nine capturing intense moments of conflict – were taken from 9:47 a.m. to 10:08 a.m..
Why, if the majority of campers had removed their belongings, did police have to continue to press domination of the area until people became escalated to the degree that it posed danger to themselves and to police? Why throw any attempt at building trust out the window when a result of campers gradually moving to new locations – which was claimed by Mayor Fleetwood to be the goal, in the days leadings up to the sweep – had already been quickly achieved earlier that morning?
A system change is being called for. The resistance against making it is costing us in money, time, spirit, health, and life. I strongly believe that government officials and others who are also in positions of power cannot achieve the goal of providing solutions to stop marginalizing one group by doubling down on marginalizing another. Eliminating homelessness is a huge project, that demands engagement from all quarters of the community. We cannot afford to erase the value of or push away community members who are taking action and are contributing to that goal.
Birch Bay, WA
This email was sent to the following addresses:
To: firstname.lastname@example.org <email@example.com>; firstname.lastname@example.org <email@example.com>; firstname.lastname@example.org <email@example.com>; Cathy Halka <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Barry Buchanan <email@example.com>; Michael W. Lilliquist <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Gene R. Knutson <email@example.com>; Hannah E. Stone <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Hollie A. Huthman <email@example.com>; Daniel C. Hammill <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Lisa A. Anderson <email@example.com>; Pinky T. Vargas <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Ann Beck <email@example.com>; Anne Deacon <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Mike Hilley <email@example.com>; Michael Shepard <firstname.lastname@example.org>; email@example.com <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Rud Browne <email@example.com>; firstname.lastname@example.org <email@example.com>; Tyler Schroeder <firstname.lastname@example.org>; email@example.com <firstname.lastname@example.org>Cc: email@example.com <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Satpal Sidhu <email@example.com>