Mayor Ashley Swearengin and a coalition of community leaders came together on Saturday to begin a dialogue toward healing and progress, just a week after a protest against police brutality erupted on the streets of north Fresno.
“We’ve gathered here today to really begin to deal with the deep issues of race in our community, the things that have divided us,” Swearengin said.
The idea for the meeting emerged from Councilman Oliver Baines and the Rev. Paul Binion to bring leaders together to encourage cooperation and inspire change in the wake of recent shootings and protests both locally and nationally.
In Dallas, five police officers were slain July 7 during a march protesting the earlier shooting by police of two black men in Minnesota and Louisiana. In Fresno on June 25, unarmed 19-year-old Dylan Noble was shot and killed during a traffic stop by Fresno police.
The meeting took place at Binion’s church, the Westside Church of God, in southwest Fresno and included several pastors, City Council members, Sheriff Margaret Mims and police Chief Jerry Dyer.
The bigness of this moment is to really deal with things that are much deeper.
Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin
More than focusing on police brutality, though, Swearengin urged those involved to look at larger issues, including racial tension.
“This isn’t just about law enforcement. This is about things that trigger us as community groups, and sometimes it manifests through law enforcement issues, but if we just make it about law enforcement we are probably missing a bigger opportunity to deal with deeper racial tensions in our community.
“So while certainly there are things on a go-forward basis that we will see come from this that affect law enforcement and policy changes, we don’t want to miss this moment. The bigness of this moment is to really deal with things that are much deeper,” Swearengin said.
Dyer called the meeting a very emotional one, with many tears shed as members shared their own experiences with injustice.
“We know there’s a lot of hate in this world, and we must learn to love on those that may hate us, and that’s the best way I can say that we’re going to heal from all of this,” he said. “We have to find a way to work together to allow some healing to occur in our city so that we can move forward.”
Dyer said the past few weeks have been some of the most challenging in his career.
“I know that there are people in this community who feel that they have been unfairly targeted for a long time, and so to balance all of that … it hurts, it hurts deeply,” he said. “I want to see us get better. I want to see us work together.”
I know that there are people in this community who feel that they have been unfairly targeted for a long time, and so to balance all of that
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer
Initially only scheduled to last an hour, the meeting went over two and a half hours as people of diverse backgrounds began a discussion that the Rev. D.J. Criner of Saint Rest Baptist Church said wouldn’t be solved in one sitting. The first step to change, Criner and Swearengin said, is simply listening to one another, regardless of background.
“Communities are divided, communities are not being heard, communities are hurting at the moment, feeling disenfranchised, feeling as if there’s nobody to hear them, so some of our leaders came together with the intent to hear each other out first, to hear the pain that’s being done to each and every one of us, and then to try to find some sort of remedy or adhesive to what’s going on in our communities that at a national level has affected us locally,” Criner said.
The discussion must move forward, Dyer said, and Saturday’s meeting is just the first of many to be held. Swearengin said it won’t be easy, but she hopes that through town halls and forums the community can come together to move beyond accusations.
“As mayor, I am calling on our community to pause and stop and listen and consider what other people may be saying,” Swearengin said. “We must grieve with others who are grieving.”
But until we get it out in the open and express it to people who are willing to listen, even if they don’t completely understand it entirely, is a help.
The Rev. D.J. Criner of Saints Rest Baptist Church
Criner said that many young people haven’t had an opportunity to speak out openly about injustices that they have experienced. Body cameras and cellphones have helped bring the issue of race to the forefront, an issue that has been present in America for decades, if not centuries, he said.
“Are many of us angry at what’s going on?” Criner said. “Absolutely. But until we get it out in the open and express it to people who are willing to listen, even if they don’t completely understand it entirely, is a help.”
Baines said that another meeting among community leaders will be held Friday.
Megan Ginise: 559-441-6614