After a violent brawl broke out in front of The Jam in Arcata over the weekend, one local bartender is planning a “Peace Picnic” – a community rally against violence – on the Arcata Plaza on Sept. 26.
“I just felt in my heart that I had to do something,” Jennifer Whitman, a bartender at Everett’s, told the Outpost in a phone interview Tuesday morning. “I just feel like we’re becoming okay with day-to-day violence … We all have to come together and show that we care.”
A Humboldt County resident for about 12 years, Whitman has been working the day shift on the weekends at Everett’s since January. And in that relatively short amount of time, Whitman said, she has witnessed multiple acts of anger and violence near the bar on the Arcata Plaza. She even once had to break up a knife fight. The incidents Whitman has seen vary in severity, she said, but the fighting has been frequent enough that she, other business owners and community members have become very concerned about the state of the Arcata Plaza. “It’s getting overwhelming,” she said.
Contacted about the incident outside of The Jam this weekend, Detective Sergeant Chis Ortega of the Arcata Police Department described a very chaotic scene. At 1:11 a.m. on Sunday the APD responded to calls about a large fight on the 900 block of H Street and officers arrived to find “numerous subjects actively fighting” and “several persons down on the street with injuries.” There was also a “large and aggressive crowd,” Ortega said, which prompted APD to call for help from other law enforcement agencies. The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, California Highway Patrol, the Cal Poly Police Department and fire and medical personnel all responded to the scene.
Ortega said that the incident is still under investigation, but officers determined that the large fight had been started inside The Jam by a group of five or six males who, after being asked to leave the bar, started attacking bar staff, patrons and bystanders. The attackers had fled the scene before the police arrived, Ortega said, and no arrests were made. Multiple people had suffered a range of injuries including face lacerations, head injuries and loss of consciousness. One person was hospitalized after suffering two broken ribs and a punctured lung. Though rumors have surfaced that this person succumbed to their injuries, Ortega said that “no fatalities have been reported or attributed to the event.”
APD is working to identify the attackers, Ortega added, and anyone with information is requested to contact APD at 822-2424 or 825-2558.
When asked if there has been a lot of violent crime on and near the Arcata Plaza recently, Ortega said that he couldn’t say without looking up some actual statistics. But he did say that historically there tend to be more violent incidents in bar districts. Because of this, APD does try to do foot patrol near the bars, especially on weekends. But staffing shortages have affected how many officers the department can allocate to that area, Ortega said.
There have been quite a few crimes, acts of violence and even one homicide on the Plaza in recent years, and how to address it has been a major discussion topic among city officials, the police department and community members. The City briefly established a Plaza Improvement Task Force to come up with suggestions on how to make the Plaza safer, and more recently the City established a Community Ambassador Program to address the issues on the Plaza.
Whitman said she is not sure what the best way is to address the crime on the Plaza, but hopes that holding an event like the Peace Picnic will bring the community together and inspire everyone to do their part to keep Arcata a peaceful and safe place to live.
“We all need to be held responsible,” Whitman told the Outpost. “I’m just asking for awareness and for people to abide by the laws and rules that we’re all supposed to.”