With chants of “Black lives matter” and “Hands up, don’t shoot,” hundreds of protesters took to north Fresno streets on Saturday to protest police shootings locally and nationwide.
While the march was mostly peaceful, a confrontation at a Highway 41 onramp put protesters face to face with a line of officers clad in riot gear.
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The march kicked off after 5 p.m. at the intersection of Shaw and Blackstone avenues, as protesters – many carrying signs – briefly blocked traffic at the intersection before heading north on Blackstone.
Griselda Arroyo sat with her two daughters outside the DXL menswear store parking lot on the southwest corner of the intersection. Her daughter Emma, 8, held a sign that says “my life matters.”
Emma, who is black, said her mother told her about Saturday’s protest and said something that made her sad.
When asked what, Emma replied quietly, “I don’t want to die” and then started to cry.
Organizer Justice Medina, 19, of Fresno, who publicized the protest on Facebook and Twitter, said he’s not with any organization but wanted to express his dismay over recent police shootings of two black men in Minnesota and Louisiana, and the June 25 shooting of Clovis teen Dylan Noble, who was white.
“I’m upset because civilians are being killed by police, and they’re here to protect and serve,” he said Saturday.
Medina said the protest was about fighting for rights and freedoms. He had no idea how many people were going to show up, but he got more than 300 retweets on Twitter.
While the march moved north on Blackstone, someone called out the names of those killed by police and marchers responded with “rest in peace.”
The mostly peaceful march turned confrontational once the protesters reached the Bullard Avenue onramp to Highway 41. Like the ramps at Shaw Avenue, the Bullard onramp was blocked off by a line of law enforcement officers in full riot gear.
Some protesters managed to get past the first line of officers at the top of the ramp but were turned back farther down the ramp before they could get onto the freeway.
Traffic on the highway was backed up in both directions during the march, in part because of ramp closures.
The presence of local pastors may have had a moderating effect on the marchers. The Rev. D.J. Criner of Saint Rest Baptist talked with police at the Barstow Avenue intersection, where he confirmed that police wanted everyone to stay safe and would make sure marchers could pass safely.
After the confrontation at the Bullard onramp ended, local pastors and officers in riot gear hugged and shook hands, and some officers thanked the pastors for playing peaceful roles.
The riot gear was in sharp contrast to the party atmosphere earlier Saturday in southeast Fresno, when the community gathered at Frank Lane Elementary School for a “Stop the Violence” event.
Fresno police Lt. Jose Garza wanted to organize the community gathering, where clothes, groceries and fun for kids was provided, to make sure the residents know they can trust police despite recent shootings nationwide and in Fresno.
“I want to bring the community to ask ‘How can we help you?’ ” Garza said.
Garza said the southeast Fresno neighborhood has seen its share of crime, from shootings to robberies, but hoped an event like Saturday’s, where the theme was “Stay Safe and Sound in Southeast,” will make community members more comfortable in seeking help from law enforcement.
As they gathered in the yard of the school, parents and children took advantage of exploring a police vehicle that was open to kids who wanted a peek inside.
Alexander Joshua Ramos Jr., 5, was not wasting time. His dad, Joshua Ramos, said his son wants to be a police officer, and being up close to one helps him feel comfortable around them.
“I think it’s important for our youth to see the positive side of our police force,” Ramos said.
Michael DeJuarez, a member of Cornerstone Church and the H.O.P.E. Coalition, said his group chooses to reach out to communities that are targets for crime.
“Protests don’t have to be in a fashion of shutting down streets,” DeJuarez said. “I’d rather shut down blocks, shut down schools and see events like this happen.”
Bee staffers Crescencio Rodriguez-Delgado, Ashleigh Panoo, Krysta Scripter and Eric Paul Zamora contributed to the story.