Fresno groups call for change in wake of shootings

Marcus Winston calls for unity and healing in light of recent police shootings during a rally in front of Fresno City Hall on Monday that was attended by several people whose family members had been shot by Fresno police.
Marcus Winston calls for unity and healing in light of recent police shootings during a rally in front of Fresno City Hall on Monday that was attended by several people whose family members had been shot by Fresno police. jwalker@fresnobee.com

On a third day of demonstrations regarding officer-involved shootings in Fresno, the Brown Berets and members of the Black Lives Matter movement met outside City Hall on Monday to discuss the changes they believe Fresno Police Department needs to make.

One Brown Beret leader called on police to use lethal force only as a last resort – a point Police Chief Jerry Dyer agreed with.

On Saturday, hundreds gathered at Shaw and Blackstone to protest the fatal shootings of young black men such as Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, as well as local teen Dylan Noble. Protest organizer Justice Medina helped plan the mostly peaceful protest. Medina was also at the rally on Monday. “I have to support my community at all times,” he said. “I’m here for Fresno.”

Speaking at the Monday rally, Brown Beret leader Juan Avitia said the recent shootings only intensify the need for change. Avitia wants police to adopt a “don’t shoot” policy where officers would use non-lethal methods to detain suspects.

“We understand police officers have a tough job,” he said, “we understand that they have constitutional rights just like anybody else in self-defense, but we also believe we’re a better people in this country.”

Avitia stood beside several families who lost relatives to police shootings in Fresno over the last several years.

Roger Centeno was one of those family members present. His brother, Freddy Centeno, was fatally shot by Fresno police last year.

“It has to stop,” Centeno said. He held a sign with Freddy’s name and date of death on it. Other families were also there to represent relatives killed by Fresno police.

Marcus Winston, a member of the Black Lives Matter movement, said on Monday that change needs to start here in Fresno, “where black and brown lives are unifying under one banner.”

Winston is a personal trainer in Fresno who recently joined the Black Lives Matter movement. He visibly choked up when he said his mother, a 21-year Army veteran, prayed for his safety when he went to join the protest on Saturday.

Possible citations

Like Medina, Winston was under the impression that police were supportive of Saturday’s protest. He was never aware of any rules placed on protesters.

Medina thought he made an agreement with Dyer that officers would support the protest.

On Sunday, Dyer said that police will be taking action against protesters because they were never allowed to be in the street. A frustrated Medina says he spoke on the phone with Dyer the day of the protest, and that stipulation never came up. Officers at the scene, however, cautioned against leaving the sidewalks.

“Don’t tell me you’re going to block off roads, support our protest, and then issue citations,” Medina said.

He was also upset about Dyer’s statement that rocks were thrown during an altercation.

“I saw no rocks being thrown,” Medina said.

Dyer and Officer Richard Tucker confirmed on Monday that they spoke to Medina in person before the event. Medina was told that those who stepped off the sidewalk could face citations.

Even though police warned Medina, officers still blocked off traffic while the march took place, a decision Dyer said was made before the event started.

“We want to do the right thing,” Dyer said. For him, that meant making sure protesters could march safely, even if it was illegal for them to do so in the street.

Dyer stressed on Monday that he would not be pursuing people who took part in the protest. The focus, he said will be protest organizers and those who attacked officers.

Tucker, who was on his motorcycle patrolling the protest, said one rock hit his bike and another fell into his lap. Police will review surveillance footage to determine who will be issued citations.

As for Avitia’s demands that officers should use lethal force as a last resort, Dyer agrees.

“The assumption is that we don’t have them,” Dyer said when asked about de-escalation tactics. Officers are trained to put distance and find cover from suspects, in order to give them time to make decisions. Mental health awareness training and non-lethal Tasers were some of the other options Dyer listed.

Krysta Scripter: 559-441-6248, @krysta_scripter