BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (CN) - Week after week on Friday nights, families of people killed by police line up to demonstrate peacefully outside the brick and marble police building in Bakersfield, California.
They arrive in small groups, as commuters head home after work, kick off the weekend with drinks and friends, or jostle for position on the freeway to get anywhere but Bakersfield. On the protest line, the families exchange stories about their missing members and the officers who are sworn to serve and protect.
A woman who asked not to be identified said they have been demonstrating outside the police building for two years.
"Obviously, not all Bakersfield police are bad," she said. But the good cops who know something is wrong and stay quiet about it are just as bad, in her eyes.
Most protesters hold a sign. "Who is he, Chief Williams?" one asks, referring to a newspaper interview in which the police chief did not recognize the name of James De La Rosa, whose dead body was tickled and played with by a police officer.
De La Rosa, a 22-year-old oilfield worker, was shot dead by police after he crashed his car when they tried to pull him over. Police said he reached for his waistband as if he had a gun, but many witnesses say his were up - and empty.
"Serve and protect, not beat and neglect," another sign says. Two red handprints adorn the top right corner. "Justice for Jorge Ramirez! Justice for David Silva! #Justice for Jason!"
Many signs invite drivers to honk for justice. Some oblige, including an off-duty school bus driver. This pleases Jorge Ramirez Sr., himself a school bus driver.
Ramirez Sr. wears a black shirt that states: "Shame on Bakersfield killer cops," and carries two signs: "Jail Killer Cops," with the names of five officers, and smaller one that says, "Shame on Chief Williams. Which one is he?" He wears a baseball cap and button in honor of his son, Jorge Ramirez, a confidential informant for police who was killed in a drug sting.
Ramirez agreed to act as an informant in exchange for leniency on drug charges. Ramirez persuaded Justin Harger, an old friend, to have dinner with him at the Four Points Sheraton hotel. When they got out of their car, police surrounded them and shot Harger to death when he drew a gun. They also shot Ramirez 10 times, then handcuffed him as he died.
Ramirez Sr. said police can terminate an operation for any reason if they feel it's too risky, but they had no tactical plan, and were confused, and killed his son.
"I think it's disturbing that the officer who shot my son opened fire without knowing who was who. It could have been a hotel guest or a bystander, but the officer assumed my son was going to run and killed him," Ramirez Sr. told Courthouse News.
Jorge's sister Nicole agreed.
"They didn't protect him. They failed him," she said, saying that if her brother had been an undercover officer they would not have shot him. "But he wasn't, so his life didn't matter to them," she said.