About 200 community members gathered Wednesday evening in downtown Fresno to protest police brutality and urge city leaders to seek solutions to racial divisions.
The demonstrators gathered in front of the Fresno County Jail, where speakers urged the public to remember those who have died at the hands of law enforcement officials. The crowd then moved two short blocks to the front of the Fresno Police Department headquarters, where they heard more calls for justice and racial unity.
Wednesday’s protest came on the heels of a march Saturday that brought hundreds of protesters to north Fresno and Clovis, and unfolded just hours after Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer released body camera video of the shooting of Dylan Noble, a Clovis man who was killed in a confrontation that started as a traffic stop and then escalated.
Tanisha Sorrell, one of several Black Lives Matter organizers in Fresno, said the main purpose of Wednesday’s event was to remember Sandra Bland, the black woman who was found hanged in her Waller County, Texas, jail cell on July 13, 2015, following her arrest after police pulled her over for a minor traffic violation. Gathering at the steps of Fresno’s downtown jail and police department meant the community would remember the way Bland died, she said.
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“That’s where she spent her final moments,” Sorrell, said.
Sorrell also said bridging the divides between the different generations is key to moving forward.
The Rev. Karen Cozier began the event with “remember her name” chants, in remembrance of Bland.
“It is our response to remember to say her name, Sandra Bland,” Crozier chanted. “One year ago today, she was found dead in a cage.”
Crozier explained that the protest and demonstration in front of the county jail and police department were to show the black community’s “resistance” to police brutality in the city and across the nation.
On the steps of the jail, Carter Memorial African Methodist Episcopal pastor the Rev. Sharon Avril said she attended the event to remember lives of men and women cut short by police. (Note: The original version of this story incorrectly identified the pastor’s surname.)
“That’s where they are trained,” Avril said, gesturing toward the jail. “It breaks my heart.”
Avril said the gathering was meant to heal and to express concern over the city’s police institutions.
“It’s scary for me as a black woman,” Avril said, explaining her feelings as she walks in public.
About 6:10 p.m., the Rev. Floyd Harris, in traditional African clothing, led the growing crowd south on M Street to the doors of the Fresno Police Department. “Black lives matter,” Harris said, waving a flag.
Facing the locked Fresno Police Department doors, organizer Justice Medina asked, “Where is the mayor? Where is the police chief?”
Medina said it is time to come together and find solutions together, adding it is too late to stay quiet.
“When does it stop?” Medina said. “Who else has to die?”
Visiting Virginia Tech student Arogeanae Brown took the megaphone to plead for the community to strive for unity in light of racial divisions.
“We can do more together united,” Brown said. “We are all one and we are all Americans.”
Some members of the crowd gathered at the front of Fresno City Hall holding signs that said “Black Lives Matter,” “Stop the violence” and “Where’s your Taser?”
The crowd later moved back toward the Fresno County Jail, with Fresno police blocking traffic so marchers could cross the street safely.
Someone on a megaphone yelled, “We gotta do this right. Please don’t block the street.”
The crowd was encouraged to live-feed the protest on social media, adding “We have social media; they can’t hide from us anymore.“
Medina, who organized the protest Saturday, said Wednesday night’s focus evolved to be more generally about police brutality. Medina said he also planned to bring up other Fresno issues, including the federal investigation of Fresno Unified School District and contracts it has entered into with builders.
Local nonprofit Faith in Community played a supportive role in organizing the rally.
Medina is also organizing a town hall meeting from 7-10 p.m. Thursday at Liberty Christian Fellowship, 1468 N. Millbrook Ave. He said the goal of that session is to open up the conversation to the community.
“This is only day five of me being a social activist here in Fresno,” said Medina, who turned 20 on Tuesday. “I don’t know a lot of the issues out here, and a lot of the youth don’t know the issues.”
Medina said the protest Saturday was his first experience with activism, adding that he doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.