Crime

Hate-related vandalism marks local church, businesses

The Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship had anti-LGBTQ messages written in chalk on its sidewalks Wednesday night. This is the second time the church has been vandalized in a month.
The Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship had anti-LGBTQ messages written in chalk on its sidewalks Wednesday night. This is the second time the church has been vandalized in a month. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

A local church was vandalized Wednesday night, the second time in a span of a month.

The Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship had anti-LGBTQ language written in chalk on its sidewalks sometime Wednesday night or early Thursday, said Rev. Paul Beckel, the church’s minister.

In late July the glass casing of a sign in front of the church’s building at 1207 Ellsworth St. was smashed and the wooden frame ripped off. The sign read slogans like, “Love is love, Black Lives Matter, no human being is illegal, and climate change is real.”

“These are all progressive beliefs and causes that are consistent with the message of inclusion and tolerance that we affirm and promote at the Unitarian Fellowship,” Beckel said, adding the incidents were reported to police.

Beckel said he and others have reached out to some members of the congregation who are advocates of the Black Lives Matter movement and some LBGTQ members to offer support.

“But that’s all of us. African Americans and LBGTQ people are not just a category of people in our congregation. That’s us,” Beckel said.

“In some ways the vandalism was pathetic. It was a broken piece of glass and chalk marks on the ground. It was not flaming torches and people walking around with guns,” Beckel added. “But it is still intimidating and discouraging and creates an uncomfortable atmosphere in a town that in general I think of, and I think Bellingham thinks of itself of, as a place where this kind of thing doesn’t happen.”

Several other businesses around town recently have been tagged with hate-related vandalism.

When asked for a report of incidents, citations and arrests regarding recent hate-related vandalism, the Bellingham Police Department told The Bellingham Herald it had to file a public records request to get the information – but similar information had been given to The Herald in a matter of hours a week prior without having to go through the public records request filing process.

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The Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship was vandalized, for the second time in a month, with hate-related graffiti Wednesday night. Rev. Paul Beckel said some members of the congregation felt like they had been targeted. Rev. Paul Beckel Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

In a span of a week following the violence in Charlottesville, Va. on Aug. 12, Bellingham police received five reports of vandalism and instances involving hate speech, symbols or actions, including three graffiti swastikas, according to Lt. Don Almer. One of the swastikas was drawn last Friday, Almer said in an interview last week. The other two reports involved an instance where someone wrote a derogatory statement aimed at President Donald Trump on a car, and an assault that is being investigated to determine whether the suspect, who was arrested, kicked a panhandler and said anti-homeless and possible racial slurs due to the person’s race or socio-economic status.

The Leaf & Ladle, a sandwich, soup and salad shop downtown, also had hate-related vandalism drawn on a chalkboard in its bathroom, said co-owner Taylor Melim. The person drew swastikas, Aryan pride symbols and wrote “liberalism is a mental disorder” on the wall last week.

Melim said they didn’t initially report the incident to police – authorities learned of the graffiti from social media and came to the shop to take a report.

“I feel like it’s not the time to be quiet. With everything going on in our country, if you have a voice to fight back you should be fighting back,” Melim said. “We don’t feel like it’s our place to excuse it. It’s not something we welcome here, it’s not something we forgive. We don’t want it here.”

Denver Pratt: 360-715-2236, @DenverPratt

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