About 50 protesters declaring “Fresno is Ferguson” and “black lives matter” blocked a downtown street at noon Monday in a bid to disrupt business as usual and mark one year since a police officer fatally shot Michael Brown in the Missouri city, sparking nationwide protests.
After several near-hits between the demonstrators and frustrated motorists on Tulare Street at O Street, Fresno police routed traffic around the blockade. Police Capt. Andy Hall said citations ranging from $100 to $700 would be handed to those who led the move into traffic.
The protesters, who first gathered in front of the Robert E. Coyle Federal Building, also mentioned Sandra Bland, the woman who died in July in a Texas jail after a minor traffic stop escalated into her arrest. Officials of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office say Bland took her own life, but her family and many civil rights leaders have demanded a federal investigation.
“We want to call attention to the fact that systematically and historically, black lives have been desecrated and taken as a part of white supremacy in all of its forms,” said Rhea Martin of Black Lives Matter in Fresno.
Said JePahl White of Faith in Community: “Our lives are in jeopardy. Our lives are in danger. We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters (around the country) and we want to be inside our federal institutions making policy changes.”
Demands of the Fresno demonstrators included:
- Demilitarization of local law enforcement across the country.
- Use of law enforcement funds to support community-based alternatives to incarceration.
- A congressional hearing to investigate the “criminalization of communities of color, racial profiling, police abuses and torture by law enforcement.”
After explaining their cause, the protesters walked onto Tulare Street, carrying signs.
“We’ll be leading you guys into the streets today and we’re gonna shut this ... down,” Stephanie Kamey shouted into a bullhorn.
A number of surprised drivers reacted angrily to the roadblock by pounding on car horns and shouting. Several attempted to push their way through by moving their cars forward slowly in a game of chicken with protesters. No one was hurt.
Hall, the police captain, said his officers filmed the event and that leaders of the protest would be issued citations for infractions such as jaywalking and not using crosswalks. The officers refrained from citing protesters during the event in an effort to prevent an escalation of tension.
Hall said organizations involved in the protest had received letters warning them they would be cited.