w ^hen we first reached out to the California department of justice (DoJ) over five years ago, Francisco Serna, a 73-year-old man with dementia, had just been killed by Bakersfield police officer Reagan Selman, capping one of the most violent years our city had ever seen.
In a small Faith in the Valley Kern office, above Dagny’s coffee shop, leaders affected by the brutality of our local police force huddled over a conference call telephone for an emotional and exasperated call to the department of justice. Having whittled away all local officials even willing to meet with them, family members who lost loved ones to Bakersfield police department (BPD) violence shared their pain with department of justice officials, hopeful for a day when they would actually be heard.
We commend the department of justice’s investigation of the BPD and its resulting consent decree and findings, which document, among other systemic problems, the excessive force and racial profiling that we and community members have long described. Implementation of the decree now rests largely in the hands of the police department, 然而. While we look forward to what changes the future holds for our community, our work has taught us that change will come as a result of the community working united towards a common goal – not through reliance on the goodwill of our city officials.
Over four years ago, 一种 five-part investigation by the Guardian asked the question, “Who do you call when the police kill your loved one?” In the years since, we have found only one answer: each other. For us, true accountability is the police admitting what they did and reallocating money from their budget to provide services such as mental health support, counseling and community-based violence intervention.
Faith in the Valley Kern – accompanied by family members of people we lost to the brutality of the BPD, and backed up by hundreds of community members and organizations like the ACLU of Southern California and People’s Budget Bako – reached out to the Department of Justice as a last resort. Several 报告 have been written casting a spotlight on the many unconstitutional patterns and practices employed by the BPD that disproportionately harm Black, 土着, Asian and Pacific Islander, and Latino communities and individuals with mental illness. 很遗憾, none of these reports prompted the BPD or city of Bakersfield officials to enact meaningful change.
Over the years, successive Bakersfield chiefs of police have seen the problems facing the community at the hands of police yet failed to take responsibility or accountability for the hurt that the police department has wrought. That remains the case today. The stipulated judgement states that the BPD continues to “deny each and every allegation” made by the department of justice. And at Monday’s press conference on the consent decree, the Bakersfield police chief, Greg Terry, stated that the settlement terms merely reflected “improvements that the police department has already made or was already in the process of making on its own”. 然而, if it were actually true that our police were blameless, then Monday’s press conference would have merely been a formality marking the end of a four-year-long pattern and practice investigation. But it was not, despite the rhetoric from Terry.
The path to this settlement decree is an affirmation that when our local institutions are failing us, we, the community, must find other ways of intervening. We don’t have to, and we will not take no for an answer. For us, that other way of intervening has been the California department of justice investigation.
The DoJ’s action brings the promise of real change within our police department. For that, we, residents of the city of Bakersfield, thank the office of the attorney general. But whether that promise becomes reality depends in large part on the implementation of this consent decree, which we will be closely monitoring.
Given that our work with the community was instrumental in bringing us to this historic moment in Bakersfield, we believe that organizations such as Faith in the Valley Kern, People’s Budget Bako and affected family members that made this moment possible should be given priority to work with the Bakersfield settlement monitor to effectuate changes. Our community members need a space to hold the work of implementation that is independent from BPD’s control, as well as resources with teeth to oversee and enforce the policies at play within BPD, including the policies that must be revised under the terms of the decree.
此外, we believe that in order to start the work of building real community trust, the city of Bakersfield must make an actual good-faith effort to listen, change, and account for and to those they have harmed. That means city leaders must make an ongoing commitment to divest from policing and incarcerating Bakersfieldians, when they would be better served by funding other crime reducing strategies, such as supportive services.
The families that have suffered at the hands of the BPD and risked themselves to share their stories with the DoJ are the real heroes of this work, and of this city. We must recall that when the police kill your loved one, the family lives on and the trauma remains. While we know this DoJ consent decree will not bring loved ones back to life, if implemented correctly with meaningful involvement of impacted families and the community, it can save lives.
May we continue to organize, 斗争, then organize and fight some more, and hold law enforcement accountable until we create new systems of community protection in lieu of policing. May we divert funds to our communities of color that have been targeted, so they have the full life their Creator intended. And let us recall Amos 5:24: “Let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.”