Area residents gather to protest racism, police brutality

Terrance Vestal
Staff Writer

About 100 area residents gathered at Bishop’s City Park Tuesday, joining others throughout the nation and the world to protest racism and police brutality in light of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer last month.
The event, originally organized by Luke Kinney, had been called off late Monday night by Kinney. In a Facebook post, Kinney stated he was canceling the protest because organizers had received “very real threats of violence to both people and property.” Kinney also cited that the protest as organized failed to “adequately center the voice of Black, Brown and Indigenous people.”
Kinney state that “this is absolutely not the end of this effort. There will be protest.”
And there was one.
Ritz Garcia, who said he was born and raised in Bishop and is now attending Humboldt State University, said while he understood the concerns expressed by Kinney, he and his friends wanted to go through with the event any way.
“We had our signs ready, we had everything ready,” Garcia, who led the crowd with a megaphone in chants including “Silence is violence,” “Black Lives Matter” and “Hands up, don’t shoot,” he said. “I think it’s important to bring awareness and stand up for what’s right.”
Inyo County Fifth District Supervisor and Chairman Matt Kingsley made a point at the board’s Tuesday meeting to express his appreciation for “the common sense approach to a very difficult situation” when it seemed like the protest might not happen.
Kinglsely said it’s indicative of rural counties and reflects the values of rural communities.
“I think it’s important to recognize that it doesn’t change how passionate they feel about the issue,” Kingsley said, adding that had things gotten ugly it would have detracted from the protestors’ message.
Bishop Police Chief Ted Stec reported Wednesday that there were no significant issues related to the protests.
“Our deployment strategy was to stage on the periphery, mostly out of sight, should a quick response be required but also to ensure against a misperception that we were there to intimidate,” Stec said. “I personally received from citizens a number of thumbs up and thanks where I was staged. I also had a couple of individuals drive up to me, who related they had BPD’s (Bishop Police Department’s) back and would not allow looting and violence to destroy this city.”
Garcia said holding events like this is important not only in smaller communities like Bishop but everywhere.
“It’s important for the next generation to take a stand and to be aware,” Garcia said.
It was clear that the majority of those gathered at the park Tuesday were most likely in the late teens to mid 20s with others representing practically all age groups.
Bishop Mayor Laura Smith said she was thankful that the event was peaceful, adding that she went to the park on a few occasions Tuesday.
“I told them that, as a city, we hear you, we’re getting your message,” Smith said. And I respect your right to deliver that message and I especially thanked them for staying peaceful.”
Smith said she was impressed with the sincerity of those at the protest as well as the strong turn out by area youth.
“I’m proud of them actually because I’m all for standing up for what you feel strong about,” Smith said. “They have a cause in mind and they feel that there’s an injustice and they’re standing up for it. A lot has happened. A lot of people agree with them. And I agree that there needs to be some changes made.”
On Monday evening, Stec released a statement that was spurred from questions from the public regarding the use of body cameras, use of force and internal investigations regarding complaints of excessive force.
After outlining department protocols, Stec stated that “staff at BPD are proud members of this community and have given an oath to serve and protect honorably. Members consist of sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives and friends of many. Our officers and support staffers frequently pivot from primary duties to teaching in the schools and participating in a number of wonderful community outreach events. I write this to let our community members know that we are here to serve our community, and do so with pride, confidence, transparency and accountability.”