Officers were called for ‘gunshots,’ ended up joining a Thanksgiving basketball game

Police call ends with Thanksgiving basketball game in Fresno

This video, posted by Alondra Williams on Facebook of Fresno police playing basketball with residents on Thanksgiving, has been viewed thousands of times.
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This video, posted by Alondra Williams on Facebook of Fresno police playing basketball with residents on Thanksgiving, has been viewed thousands of times.

A police call in southeast Fresno on Thanksgiving led to a game of basketball between officers and residents that warmed hearts and changed perspectives.

The game started after police responded to a call after 6 p.m. Thursday of screaming and possible gunshots near Kings Canyon Road and Armstrong Avenue. Fresno police said the noise turned out to be a basketball game nearby.

Caleb Martin, a 37-year-old security guard and father, invited the responding officers to play a short five-on-five game with his family. To his surprise, they accepted his offer.

“Basically, I was just trying to turn a negative into a positive,” Martin said. No one in his family had heard any gunshots.

Martin said he felt “a little nervous” about initial questioning from police because of reports of African Americans around the country being wrongfully killed due to racial profiling.

“I do fear for my own life,” he said, “but I fear for my kids’ life, as well.”

But Martin soon learned he had nothing to fear while talking with police Thanksgiving night.

The officers played basketball with energy and enthusiasm, he said, and were amazingly fast despite their heavy police gear. They all laughed and joked together. The police team lost the game but gained much respect and appreciation.

A relative watching nearby, Alondra Williams, filmed part of the game and posted it to Facebook, calling it “a night to remember!”

“I want to say THANK YOU to the Fresno Police Department for showing my sons, nephews, and brothers that all police officers don’t have to be feared. What a wonderful memory!” Williams wrote. “Happy Thanksgiving!!!”

Her video was viewed more than 146,000 times and shared more than 3,000 times on Facebook within its first day online.

“It’s just a really good feeling that so many people are interested in a positive story about law enforcement engagement with an African American family,” said Williams, who works as a development services coordinator for Fresno’s planning department.

Fresno High School student Max Villanueva, 16, played in the basketball game with police.

“I never thought it would be that cool,” Max said of the game. “It was amazing … it shows how caring and supportive they were.”

Jovany Villanueva, 15, also a Fresno High student, said, “There are good police out there.”

Williams said the officers’ actions are especially meaningful to her because one of her sons was once “harassed” by a police officer several years ago. She said her son was told to leave an area outside Fashion Fair mall while waiting for a ride home after work. She said the officer asked her son “if he tried to rob a person in the shop.”

Of the basketball game with police, Williams said, “It’s good to see there are police officers that are changing that narrative … They could have harassed everyone but they didn’t.”

Fresno Police Lt. Bill Dooley said officers Jose DeLeon, Tim Sunderland, Aaron Saavedra, Daniel Gonzales and Dillon Biggs played in the game.

Williams said “thank you” doesn’t adequately express her appreciation for them.

“They have no idea how much of an impact they had on the lives of people who were just having a Thanksgiving dinner,” Williams said. “They really have no idea.”

Carmen George: 559-441-6386, @CarmenGeorge