In a letter to Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Terry, the ACLU is accusing the Bakersfield Police Department of biased policing during a Nov. 1 demonstration that included both Black Lives Matter protesters and Trump supporters.
Several viral videos recorded by protester Erika Harris show people wearing Trump 2020 T-shirts invehicles decorated with pro-Trump and pro-police banners antagonizing Black Lives Matter supporters who were chanting “defund the police.” Trump supporters are seen getting out of their vehicle and telling Harris to “come get it.”
“In the recording you see someone sort of trying to slap a phone out of the individual's hand who is recording,” said ACLU lawyer Stephanie Padilla.
“And when this individual is reporting these facts to the police officers, they don’t inquire more about what happened.”
But, she said, officers did investigate an anonymous tip that BLM protesters were allegedly armed. She said she understands that the police department has broad discretion when choosing which potential crimes to pursue but, “it is when officers are exercising this discretion in a way that is discriminatory based on the [defund the police] speech that it is a violation of the first amendment.”
The letter suggests the department should implement steps to hold the involved officers accountable and institute training to ensure police treat all members of the public equally.
Spokesperson Sgt. Robert Pair said the police department is investigating the incident and will share its findings with District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer, who will ultimately decide how to move forward.
Sgt. Pair also said the department has arrested individuals from both groups, noting Bakersfield police have arrested more members of the self identified 1176 Patriot group than BLM supporters, over the last few months.
There are currently seventeen investigations related to tensions between the 1776 Patriots and Black Lives Matter groups in Bakersfield according to Srgt. Pair.
And tension between the two groups has escalated since June when protests in solidarity with George Floyd, a Minnesota man killed by police over allegations of a counterfeit check, began.
In early June, 55-year-old Robert Forbes died at Kern Medical Center two days after being run over by a counter protester at a Black Lives Matter protest in central Bakersfield. In a since-deleted Facebook post the driver, Kieth Moore, admitted to running over Forbes with his truck, but said it was an accident. No charges had been filed when Moore died in September in Baja California, according to a report released by the Bakersfield Police Department.
In October, Trump supporters disrupted a Black Lives Matter protest organized by local community leaders in solidarity with Breonna Taylor, a Kentucky woman murdered by local police in her home. After several physical altercations broke out, the Bakersfield Police Department arrived at the scene and declared it an unlawful event.