More than 150 protesters chanted, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” as they marched to four different sites in East Bakersfield where people had been shot or beaten by the cops. “This could happen to any of us. We are all Mexican. We are all white. We are all Black. We are united,” said a relative of Ronnie Ledesma Jr., when the march stopped at the corner where Ledesma was beaten by police in 2013. He died in custody nine days later.
According to a study by the Guardian newspaper, Kern County, which includes Bakersfield, has the highest per capita deaths at the hands of cops in the United States. Kern County has a population of just under 875,000. The cops killed 13 people here in 2015; in New York City with almost 10 times the population, the cops killed nine people.
“I’m here to represent my son who was killed Nov. 13, 2014,” said Leticia De La Rosa, mother of James De La Rosa, who was 22 years old when he was gunned down by the Bakersfield police. An oil field worker, he crashed his car during a police pursuit. Cops fatally shot De La Rosa when he got out of the car. Some witnesses said he put his hands up, but the police used the well-worn excuse that he was reaching for his waistband. He was unarmed.
The family of day laborer David Silva also joined the march. “These people will be held accountable,” said his mother Merri Silva, speaking at the corner where he was beaten to death by cops on May 7, 2013. “If I’m not vocal nothing is going to be solved.”
Silva had sought help at the Kern County Medical Center and fell asleep on the ground nearby. An officer with a police dog woke him up. Seven members of the Kern County Sheriff’s department and two California Highway Patrol Officers joined in using batons to beat and hog-tie him. Police dogs bit him 30 times. Videos taken by witnesses were confiscated by the cops.
Donny Youngblood, who is both the sheriff and the coroner, ruled that Silva’s death was an accident and that deputies acted appropriately, alleging that Silva was resisting arrest. Youngblood is notorious for his anti-immigrant stance.
Kern County is one of the top oil-producing counties in the U.S., as well as a major agricultural center at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, and has long been a center for farmworker organizers. With the drop in oil prices and a drought, unemployment in the area was officially at 10.9 percent in February, almost twice the rate in the state as a whole.
At a barbecue after the march, other family members spoke, including the mother and aunt of Jason Alderman. He was shot to death on Aug. 22, 2015, by cops who claimed they thought he was armed outside a shop they said he had burglarized. After first saying there was no video, the cops were forced to release one that shows Alderman was unarmed and was shot while trying to exit the shop through a hole in the bottom of the door.
Marchers expressed appreciation for protesters who joined them from southern California, including activists from the Young Survivors Legacy Support Network, a group of family members and friends of victims of police killings in Orange County and Los Angeles. Other speakers included Genevieve Huizar, whose son Manuel Diaz was killed by an Anaheim cop in July 2012; a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union; members of the Brown Berets; and the Socialist Workers Party.
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