By Darlene L. Williams, Contributing Writer

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — 300 local residents, elected officials, and representatives from the Bakersfield Police Department (BPD) came together in a virtual Zoom conference entitled, ”Conversation, Cops, and CommUNITY” to discuss police brutality, policing policies, and racial inequalities that have plagued the African American community for decades.

The urgent public outcry came just days after the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd (Minneapolis, Minnesota) at the hands of a white police officer who knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds until he died.

Arleana Waller, She Power Global Ambassador (SPGA) and MLKcommUNITY INITIATIVE member, contacted BPD Chief Greg Terry to organize the June 2, 2020 meeting.

“With a heavy heart and tears streaming down my face, I called Chief Terry and asked for a human to human conversation,” Waller said. “He agreed and allowed me to organize this call with his team and within 3 days of planning, we had over 500 Zoom RSVP’s.”

Those in attendance expressed their concern and outrage at the shocking video-taped death of George Floyd. The world watched in horror as a restrained Floyd showed no signs of resistance, but repeatedly stated, “I can’t breathe” and in final pleas for his life called out for his deceased mother.

The harrowing images of Floyd’s death have ignited the largest civil rights movement in history. According to multiple news sources, 50 states and 18 countries have joined in the protest that has sparked riots, fighting, and several deaths.

Assistant BPD, Chief Joe Mullins voiced his anger over the video,” I was mad, mad for all of that going on!”

“My anger, Mullins said, changed to dismay because it went on and on and on; for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. How could anyone think that this is okay? There is no way a decent human being could look at this and say it’s okay.”

Chief Terry communicated with the panel the screening methods, laws, the rights of peace officer and other policies surrounding the work of police officers.

Several suggestions and ideas for policy changes were discussed in hopes of improving relations between the African American community and other people color and the BPD.

Traco Matthews; KCSOS HR Director stated that having an outside agency periodically audit and hold police officers and the police department accountable. By tracking the number of incidents (focusing on excessive force), as well as having an advisory committee to “coach” the officers and relay the data to the department, was one of several ideas shared during the conference.

NAACP President, Patrick Jackson, stated that “unless policies are fixed, true change won’t occur.”

Questions and comments from the community poured in through the virtual online chat.

“For far too long the policing profession has decided what the community needs based on dots on a map, based on reports here or there. We have decided what the appropriate strategy is to reduce those incident dots on a map.”

“You (police officers) are not being deployed into our neighborhoods. You are a part of our neighborhoods, a part of our community.”

In response to those comments, Chief Terry said “Why are we still dealing with this? (Police brutality) Because we haven’t been dealing with it, he said. Going forward, we are going to be making changes. And I’m ready to do that.”

Goals moving forward were:

· Peaceful protests were encouraged

· Initiation of more conversations and actions to build trust with the community

· Implementation of an advisory and/or oversight board that could provide accountability to BPD

· Implement better policing strategies

· The continuity of ongoing conversations

· More Zoom meetings to be held for those who could not participate this time could do so next time.

Panelists for the virtual meeting were: SPGA; Arleana Waller, BPD Chief; Greg Terry, Leadership Strategist; Arnita Taylor, Therapist; Tahlua Goosby, KCSOS HR Director; Traco Matthews, Trustee with PBUSD; Keith Wolaridge, Mayor; Karen Goh, BPD Assistant Chief; Joe Mullins, Lt. Clayton Madden; NAACP President; Patrick Jackson, Assemblyman; Rudy Salas, Civil Rights Activist; Christina Laster, Author; Bob Prater, Ret. KCSO Deputy; Clarence Hosey, and US Congressman; TJ Cox.