Tower District rally against white supremacy stays peaceful

Loretta Kensinger, who is white, made it clear Saturday she does not like white supremacists.

“I am tired of white people saying they speak for me in the name of hate,” she screamed during an anti-hate rally in Fresno’s Tower District.

Kensinger, a member of the Central Valley Progressive Political Action Committee, was one of several speakers during Saturday’s event. The peaceful protest against white supremacy (there were no counter-protestors) was planned in the wake of the racially-charged Charlottesville, Virginia, protests.

“You can call me a race traitor,” Kensinger proudly yelled as she read to the crowd gathered at the corner of Wishon and Olive avenues. She favored monuments being built for the “courageous people who stood, and fought, and died for love.” Kensinger included Heather Heyer, the woman killed in the Charlottesville protests when a white-supremacist rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.

The organizer of Saturday’s rally, 28-year-old Simone Cranston-Rhodes, said the event was planned mainly around the goal of denouncing white supremacy and the hatred of non-whites. She said she wanted to organize an anti-hate rally in Fresno to allow those who oppose white supremacy to have their voice heard locally and to counter the events being held around the nation by pro-white supremacist groups.

“Even if we couldn’t make it up to the Bay Area to protest against white supremacy, we wanted to have something here in Fresno to stand up in love and unity to say we don’t want white supremacy in our state or in our country,” Cranston-Rhodes said.

About 2,000 people on social media had shown interest in the rally, Cranston-Rhodes said. But a rough estimate of about 300 people actually showed up. They came with signs denouncing the KKK and Nazis. Some signs included language against President Donald Trump, who was criticized by speakers at the rally for his “insensitive” remarks about Charlottesville and having recently pardoned former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Notable figures like Fresno City College President Carole Goldsmith and California Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula were in attendance.

Claudia Chavez, 28, of Fresno said she was motivated to attend the rally after reading about and watching videos out of Charlottesville a couple of weeks ago that “turned my stomach.” She said she tries to attend peace rallies as often as she can. She came Saturday with a sign depicting a “hate” side and a “hate-free” side.

“I just hope that people realize that we’re in deeper (expletive) than where we thought we were,” Chavez said. “Racism and pre-judgments about people needs to stop.”

Sanchez considers white supremacist groups like the KKK as terrorists and she compared the hate group to the Islamic State group. “You can’t sit here and just lay back and be like ‘it’ll all wash over,’” Sanchez said about racism and prejudice behaviors. She said that her friends who attended the rally were ready to put up a fight if counter-protesters showed up to the peace rally. It ended up not being necessary.

As the roughly two-hour rally went on, outside protesters were not seen. A buffer zone of a few feet was made by bicycle racks just outside the area where the rally was held. And Fresno police officers were stationed all around on foot and on motorcycles. Police Chief Jerry Dyer walked and stood among the crowd as speakers gave passionate pleas for unity often at the rhythm of drums played by the Tounkara Plus group. Dyer said his officers’ presence was meant to protect people and expected his officers to “look friendly.”

“This is not about spying on any individuals. We want to make sure that people are kept safe,” said Dyer, whose presence was largely welcomed by the crowd.

Dyer said the rally attendees “came out with the right intentions,” but that that his department had indeed prepared for the worse. A mobile command center was operating just a block away from the rally location. He said he had no reason to believe anybody would show up to disrupt the peace rally, but counter-protesters often “operate off the radar.”

The event had come to a close by noon. Dyer said, “It’s always good to plan for the worst and hope for the best.”

Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado: 559-441-6304, @cres_guez