Hundreds of demonstrators marched through downtown Bakersfield Tuesday afternoon and evening in peaceful solidarity with protesters calling for an end to police brutality after an unarmed black man died in police custody on Memorial Day in Minneapolis.
At least 200 people, many of them families, chanted and held signs as they walked westward along Truxtun Avenue from Beale Memorial Library to Bakersfield Police Department headquarters. They then turned around and returned to where they started by 4:30 p.m.
Witnesses said the demonstrators walked on sidewalks instead of blocking traffic as protesters have done in the area in recent days.
Many in the solidarity march chanted intermittently. Some used megaphones to deliver speeches.
Andrew Mercadel, a 30-year-old Bakersfield resident, said the event seemed to embrace the national protest movement.
“It’s unity, man,” he said. “I see love and caring and understanding.”
One of his companions, 33-year-old Jeremy Roberts, emphasized the march involved no violence, looting or destruction.
“It gives an example,” he said.
Their friend, 26-year-old Isaiah Knox of Oildale, said the event provided an opportunity to make a statement in honor of today’s children.
“It gives us a chance to come out here and protest for our kids,” he said, “so they can grow up in a better society and not have to worry about being killed crying in the street begging for their mother.”
The organizer of the walk, Rosedale resident Cheryl Nilsson, said the idea was to come together and show love and support for Bakersfield’s black community.
Having organized successful fundraisers in the past, the 41-year-old eating psychology coach spoke with friends and family members about her idea. She said they agreed it was worthwhile and so she posted a flyer for a “solidarity walk.”
“I couldn’t believe that no one else was taking the initiative without being asked by the black community to do that,” she said.
Protesters have gathered in downtown Bakersfield for four consecutive nights, mostly peacefully. In other cities such events have led to violence, looting and destruction of property.
BPD Chief Greg Terry has denounced the force used on George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer kept his knee on the man’s neck for more than eight minutes, even after Floyd appeared to go unconscious.
Mayor Karen Goh showed up in front of police headquarters at about 6 p.m. and introduced herself to individual protesters. She asked what brought them out and how long they had lived in Bakersfield.
At 6:20 p.m. an organizer standing at the steps in front of the BPD building with a megaphone thanked protesters for coming out. Then another organizer called for 8 minutes and 46 minutes of silence to remember Floyd.
After that, Goh was invited to address the group. Receiving applause before and after her brief speech, the mayor called for "liberty and justice for all" and said people were there not just for George Floyd but also for families.
"I know that there have been injustices. I know that people have been hurt," she said. "Let's come to the table together."
Protesters shouted from the crowd, including "You cannot co-opt this moment" and "Fire Youngblood," a reference to Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood.
At about 6:40 p.m. the group of 200 to 300 people began to march and shortly thereafter ended up at the corner of H and 23rd streets. There they sat in the intersection blocking traffic for about 15 minutes. Protesters chanted, gave speeches and read poetry before continuing to walk around downtown.
The gathering continued to grow through the early evening and by 7:30 the group of protesters numbered at least 300 people.
City Councilman Andrae Gonzales, engaging in person with protesters for the first time since the demonstrations began, said he was impressed by the diversity and size of the group.
Dressed in a suit and speaking to a reporter on the sidelines of the event, Gonzales expressed a measure of support for the cause.
"I think it's important for all these folks to know that there are a lot of us who hear them" and want to engage in ways to eliminate racism "on all fronts," he said.