BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – A side drama was taking place during this weekend’s protests on Truxtun Avenue in front of BPD headquarters.
It involved the BPD memorial, a tribute to this city’s fallen officers.
There are two ways to look at the protests in dozens of U.S. cities these past few days following the death last week in Minnesota of George Floyd, the physical and the symbolic.
The physical is clear and obvious. Protesters and police tussling in the streets of America. Demonstrators’ anger stemming from Floyd’s death at the hands of four Minneapolis officers, one of whom had his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than 8 minutes.
The other is symbolic, with protestors threatening government buildings and torching police cars.
Three nights of protests in Bakersfield did not result, thankfully, in anything close to the sort of damage we saw elsewhere.
Although there was this vandalism Friday night at the Bakersfield Police Department’s fallen officer memorial, dark etched marble affixed to the front of BPD headquarters.
Vandals smashed lighting and spray-painted across the front – “kill more cops.” A city crew brought the memorial back to its former luster on Saturday morning. And then a motorcycle club of former law enforcement and correctional officers are known as the iron brotherhood spent three hours Saturday cleaning up and repairing the memorial further.
But the demonstrations continued Saturday and went into the night. Would vandals just hit the memorial again?
Two Bakersfield men saw to it that they didn’t. Drew Torris and Mike Sheetz took it upon themselves to stand watch until the protest dissipated.
Mike Sheetz said he saw Torris guarding the memorial and had to assist.
“A couple groups are, you know, antagonizing and really trying to like provoke a fight, walking by and saying they’re gonna mess with the memorial again and, dude, using the spray paint motion,” said Sheetz. “I just don’t believe in defacing and vandalizing. There’s no need to be messing with a memorial. these officers didn’t do anything. I definitely would join the peaceful protesters.
I’ve walked right up with them. I have, and you’re seeing law enforcement. joining the peaceful protesters — that speaks volumes. that’s a powerful message.”
The BPD memorial, like other memorials, is a symbol of gratitude. The memorial, defaced, is a symbol of anger. the memorial restored is a symbol of persistence.
Will the BPD continue to need safeguarding? We should know soon. but know that many in Bakersfield are prepared to do so, whether before, during, or after.