Local leaders addressed feelings of anger, frustration and grief during a Black Lives Matter sit-in held at Mill Creek Park on Wednesday, which were followed later that night by the largest gathering of people in downtown Bakersfield so far since protests began Friday.
The sit-in, which began at 5 p.m., was organized by local African-American artist Crimson Skye to be a peaceful event in solidarity with black lives affected by a “broken system,” according to the event’s flyer. Skye performed various songs with messages of peace, love and fighting, and injustices.
Skye felt that she had previously been too quiet in regards to the fight against systemic racism. The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week at the hands of law enforcement served as a spark.
“There is a systematic devaluation of black lives,” Skye said. “Three steps we can take to end systemic racism are to end silence and start conversation, listen and learn and evolve.”
Bakersfield City Manager Christian Clegg spoke at the event about solving violence and stopping cyclical poverty and incarceration. Clegg was emotional when telling a story of a young man he worked with who was stuck in cycles of poverty and gang violence when Clegg was city manager in Stockton.
“Being able to understand where he came from helped me figure out that people need more opportunities in the areas of education, healthcare and mentorship,” Clegg said.
City Councilman Andrae Gonzalez said he wanted to use the night as an opportunity to come together in reflection and song. During his speech, Gonzalez led a “Black Lives Matter” chant with the crowd.
“All lives matter, that’s obvious, but right now we need to focus on the black lives,” Gonzalez said.
He added that he's been impressed with local demonstrations the past six nights because of their effectiveness, size and diversity.
Local artist Tay Yung said he was inspired to attend Wednesday's gathering because his father was a victim of police brutality two years ago. Since then, his dad lost “faith in the system.”
“There’s been the riot side (of the protests nationally), but this is peaceful,” Yung said. “If you see any kind of negative energy towards this or any kind of police response, it shows you where our country is at right now.”
Community leader Audrey Chavez also addressed the crowd. She reiterated she wanted people on the outside to understand what she and many protesters stand for, not what they are against.
“We are not against police. We are for justice,” she said.
“I recognize that my voice might not be the best for this situation, but when I’m asked to speak, I will always stand up for justice.”
The sit-in was a precursor to a night of more protests in downtown Bakersfield.
Early in the protest friction surfaced between a group of about 400 to 500 people from 40 different churches who arrived in support of the protest and 200 to 300 protesters. But demonstrator Jordin Lewis was eventually able to get the two groups on equal ground.
“I want to see what’s happening have positive unity and us getting along,” said Teresa Hunt, one of the attendees of the worship group. “The nation is hurting for so many reasons.”
Once a consensus was reached, local pastor Will Gutierrez brought both groups together to take a knee in solidarity in front of the Bakersfield Police Department station.
As of the Californian print deadline protesters began marching in the streets with some of the worship group members joining them, protected by an impromptu motorcade. They walked north on H Street, turned east on 24th Street, before heading south on Chester Avenue.