The sound of a gun shot rang out from speakers as a screen showed Walter Scott fall to the ground – dead.
The audience gasped while watching the video for Bakersfield Police Department’s Protocol for Use of Deadly Force forum at Christian Compassion Church Thursday.
“This is the other side of the story,” said BPD Captain Joe Mullins.
BPD and the Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance came together to start a dialogue with the community about police brutality and the use of deadly force.
Mullins began the session by playing two graphic videos: one of a civilian killing a police officer and the other of a police officer killing a civilian.
“I don’t want to sugar-coat this,” Mullins said. “You’re going to watch two men die.”
Mullins emphasized that deadly force can save the life of a police officer, but can also be abused to unjustly take the life of a civilian.
The event provided a presentation on deadly force, with an in-depth discussion of case law, department policy and the BPD’s training practices.
Following the presentation was a series of simulations the audience members could participate in. Each participant was armed with a fake gun and taser and instructed to engage with the subject of each simulation.
The simulations took the audience members through the process of different policing scenarios, all of which can escalate to the point of deadly force.
Most audience members wanted to hear about deadly force rather than other types of force. Multiple attendees cited the ACLU Southern California statistics showing BPD has the highest rate of police homicides per capita in the U.S.
“Less than one percent of arrests do we have to use deadly force,” Mullins said.
When asked by attendees asked about bias against African American citizens, Mullins said the best way to ensure the safety of people of color is more implicit bias training.
“Training always makes it better,” Mullins added.
According to Chief Lyle Martin, the goal of the event was to remove the “and” from the phrase “the police and the community.” To him, fostering the ties between civilians and police officers is of the utmost importance.
For this reason, the BPD changed their mission statement to begin with “partners with the community.”
“We want to be partners with the community, not separate from it,” Martin said.
To many attendees, this event was a step towards greater transparency from the police department.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” attendee Josh Armstrong said.
“It’s helping increase understanding I think,” added Amanda Goana, another attendee.
Christian Compassion Church pastor Roland Banks said, “This was a perfect opportunity to open up communication between the police and the community.”
This story was made possible with a grant from California Humanities, in partnership with Bakersfield College.
South Kern Sol is a youth-led journalism organization in Kern County. In their stories, youth reporters shine light on health and racial disparities in under-served communities across Kern. For more stories by South Kern Sol, head to southkernsol.org.