A video of Trump supporters threatening a group of Black Lives Matter activists in Bakersfield raised eyebrows across the country when it went viral earlier this week. A few of those eyebrows, apparently, belonged to the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California, which has sent a letter to the Bakersfield Police Department saying its attorneys were “disturbed” by the differing treatment each side seemed to have received when confronted by officers.
“(BPD) officers appear to have treated protesters unequally based on the respective political messages they were conveying, in violation of the U.S. Constitution,” read the letter, which was written by ACLU staff attorneys Jordan Wells and Stephanie Padilla.
BPD did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Californian on Friday. It issued what it calls a “community update” earlier this week explaining its actions depicted on the video.
“The primary goal of the responding officers was to deescalate the altercation, and obtain enough information to facilitate an investigation into the events that transpired,” BPD said in the update.
Referring to the viral video that was posted on social media platforms by Baller Alert, the ACLU said swift action must be taken to remedy the “apparent incident of biased policing.” Steps such as holding the involved officers accountable and instituting training to ensure police treat all members of the public equally are needed, the letter states, if a BPD investigation into the incident determines the video is accurate.
Seen more than 10 million times across Instagram and Twitter, the video shows several “apparently armed” people with Donald Trump and pro-police gear yelling at a woman filming who verbally supported Joe Biden at the 2200 block of Panama Lane.
After an unknown amount of time, the video cuts to show BPD officers arriving. The woman tells BPD “they sprayed us with bear mace,” and claims the incident is on video. She asks repeatedly for officers not to let the individuals leave, saying a crime has occurred.
The officer responds, “we have no idea what’s going on now,” as pickup trucks outfitted with pro-Trump decorations leave the area.
Later in the video, the woman has little luck convincing officers to do anything about her claim.
The letter contrasts BPD’s actions to other videos that allegedly show officers drawing their guns and handcuffing Black Lives Matter protesters during recent demonstrations elsewhere in Bakersfield.
“When officers exercise their enforcement discretion in a discriminatory matter based on speech, they violate the First Amendment,” the letter states. “We are concerned that BPD officers appear to have discriminated against Black Lives Matter protesters when the officers refused to entertain, let alone investigate, their reports of improper use of mace by pro-police individuals.”
Bakersfield Police, in its community update, said the confrontation was under investigation and the matter would be submitted to the Kern County District Attorney’s Office once all facts are known.
In its letter, the ACLU proposed a meeting with BPD to discuss the issue. ACLU spokesman David Colker wrote in an email to The Californian the letter was sent to BPD on Wednesday and no response had since been received.