Jan. 19, 2015
The annual Martin Luther King parade in Fresno is like many MLK celebrations across the country, where politicians and police agencies pretend to represent the ideals of the late civil rights leader by allowing an assembly of people to walk down the street, carrying signs and “celebrating MLK’s legacy”. This year, participants were encouraged to bring canned food for the less fortunate as a way of honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
But not everyone came to the event to listen to cops and politicians tell a crowd of 1,500 people how much has changed since the civil rights movement. The Fresno Coalition Against Police Brutality lead a contingent to “Reclaim The Legacy“; a phrase originally coined by radical Black Lives Matter organizers, but co-opted by the parade committee. The protesters remained modest during the opening ceremony for speakers but turned their backs on the Chief of Police, Jerry Dyer, when it was his turn to speak.
At the beginning of the month, Chief Dyer was on television explaining a plan to “crack down on protesters”. In the plan, crafted by the district attorney and the police department, protest organizers are to be identified via police surveillance and sent a letter threatening retribution in the form of citations, $6000 restitution, and jail time if the protests continued. Dyer said he hoped it would keep future protests peaceful, implying that walking in the road holding signs and chanting is a violent act. He reiterated at the event in an interview with Brian Sumner, that he supported free speech but protesters needed a permit to protest, otherwise, he said he is obligated to enforce the law (by arresting protest organizers and extorting participants).
When the parade began moving, Rev. Floyd Harris from National Network in Action wasn’t singing songs with the other preachers; he was leading “hands up, don’t shoot“, and “no justice, no peace” chants on his megaphone which were heard the entire length of the parade being lead by Clovis and Fresno Police Departments. When the parade arrived at the Veterans Museum, coalition leaders took the opportunity to speak truth to power and captivated a diverse audience.