A protest against police brutality and racism held in downtown Bakersfield Friday night turned tense when a car drove through a crowd of people and police later dispersed the protesters.
About 500 demonstrators turned out in response to the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis. It's one of multiple protests that have broken out across the country in recent days concerning the issue.
Demonstrators gathered downtown around 4:30 p.m. migrating back and forth across Truxtun Avenue from the police headquarters and City Hall North.
Chants echoed throughout the evening with statements such as “black lives matter,” “hands up, don’t shoot” and “I can’t breathe.”
“(I came out here) because I am a black person in this community. We keep arguing about the same problem and it’s not going to get fixed,” said demonstrator Naomi Thompson.
Bakersfield native Marion Deloth said he joined the protest because he's spent his entire life fighting racism and injustice. His father was one of the original delegates of the United Farm Workers, he said.
“I was born in the ’50s and have seen racism and injustice my whole life,” Deloth said.
“Until black, white, Hispanics come together, nothing is going to change.”
Hours later the protest took a violent turn after a vehicle reportedly ran into a group of people at the corner of Truxtun Avenue and Eye Street. According two eyewitness accounts, the vehicle started honking but not in support of the protesters.
"I guess he wasn't with us," said 19-year-old Priscilla Carballo, a resident of southwest Bakersfield.
Carballo said the car accelerated and then turned around and came back more than a block later heading east on Truxtun Avenue before protesters began hitting it with water bottles, said 17-year-old Alex Olea of southwest Bakersfield.
He said an ambulance arrived about 15 minutes later to tend to at least one person who got hit on the initial pass.
BPD could not be reached to confirm the incident.
At 8:40 p.m., a SWAT vehicle and about six BPD patrol cars arrived in front of department headquarters with sirens blaring.
Officers ruled it an unlawful assembly and threatened to arrest those protesting. Officers lined Truxtun Avenue about 50 feet from the demonstrators, who raised their arms in protest not ceding the street.
Just before 9 p.m., officers began moving eastward and the protesters retreated.
“The assault on black Americans has been going on for over 400 years and we have to take a stand,” demonstrator Jamere Molton said earlier in the evening. “It’s not always just racism, classism is big as well, but the killing of unarmed black men sparks this.”
Victoria Barton, a local photographer, said she's covered many demonstrations throughout her entire life in Bakersfield. The protest on Friday was the largest she had seen.
On Friday, Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Terry issued a statement regarding Floyd’s killing and condemned the involved officer’s actions.
“The death of Mr. George Floyd in Minneapolis is horrific. The actions by the police officers in this video is inexcusable,” Terry said. “I unequivocally condemn what they did. I believe the (Minneapolis) mayor, chief of police and prosecuting attorney are doing the right thing by conducting a criminal investigation.
“The behaviors of these officers does not meet my expectations of any police officer in our country. Police officers have a legal, moral, and ethical obligation to use only proper methods of arrest.”
Additionally, Terry said that after seeing the video of Floyd’s killing, he made sure that it was made clear to all BPD officers that it was unacceptable.
“While our officers have already been well trained in this area, upon seeing the Minneapolis video I immediately directed that our training staff review this incident with every Bakersfield police officer for a clear understanding that such actions are not acceptable in our society,” Terry said.
At least one demonstrator was pleased with what Terry had to say.
“I love what the chief of police said this morning. I believe he spoke from his heart,” said Mary Santana. “We all should be treated equally and if someone does something wrong they should be held accountable.”
Earlier in the afternoon, the Kern County Superior Court suspended operations and the county offices sent employees home early in anticipation of the potential protest, according to Megan Person, the county’s chief communications officer.
The city of Bakersfield’s department heads spoke with BPD and decided to allow all city employees working downtown to leave by 4 p.m., according to Joseph Conroy, the city’s public information officer.