Dylan Noble was 19-years-old, unarmed, and laying on the ground defenseless when he was shot to death by cowardly Fresno police officers. His death is an absolute tragedy and an injustice that has garnered international media attention. This article isn’t meant to detract from that or condemn anyone mourning his death. But there is a big problem with what happened at Dylan’s vigil last month. Actually, it’s not so much what happened or didn’t happen at Dylan’s vigil, but what does happen to people of color in Fresno when they assemble in a similar fashion; because it is a glaring double standard.
It is understood that Dylan’s vigil wasn’t meant to be a protest. But that’s what it evolved into, and to be entirely forthcoming about it, I have seen the riot cops come out for less.
Typically I would never create a list of “bad behavior” at an event meant to honor someone who has died at the hands of the cops, but it is necessary to illustrate the blatant double standard between how a predominately white group of protesters are treated versus Black Lives Matter demonstrators. This should not be mistaken as advocation of Dylan’s friends being arrested or cited for their behavior. It is an advocation to allow people of color to protest and mourn in Fresno too.
At Dylan Noble’s vigil there were countless instances of reckless driving; burnouts, donuts, speeding, and wheelies on motorcycles. Drinking in public (presumably underage drinking). Illegal fireworks. Standing in the street and on the median. Yelling obscenities at police (Dyer usually says this is provoking his officers). Throwing objects at police officers, and vandalism of the Chevron parking lot with spray paint.
What was the response from police? A free pass to openly violate the law and disrupt the peace. No arrests. No tickets. No enforcement of the law whatsoever. Which is absolutely fine by me considering the circumstances.
But to those of us in the Fresno activist community, it was an obvious double standard to how Dyer has treated Black Lives Matter demonstrators in the past and the present. When the Fresno Coalition Against Police Brutality marched in the street in 2014, we were threatened with arrest and costly citations. This had a chilling effect and the coalition fell apart.
When a Black Lives Matter contingent disrupted traffic for about 15 minutes a year later in 2015, he followed through with the threats and targeted protest organizers, Stephanie Kamey and Rhea Martin; issuing jay walking citations immediately following the protest. Floyd Harris Jr. was later targeted in his vehicle and given a summons for his involvement in the protest following a demonstration at Fresno Police Headquarters for Freddy Centeno.
Last Saturday’s Black Lives Matter march was a breath of fresh air in a stale movement repressed by Jerry Dyer. The event came just two weeks after the rowdy gathering for Dylan Noble. The response from Jerry Dyer wasn’t any different from the past. Organizer Justice Medina was issued a ridiculous citation for “obstructing the sidewalk” and not having a permit for the march.
When Justice Medina left a Black Lives Matter protest in California last Wednesday, police followed him. At around 8pm, roughly a mile away from the protest in downtown Fresno, officers stopped the 20-year-old, who was in a car with his mother.
“They had trailed behind me, and they pulled me out of the car and handcuffed me,” recalled Medina, who is black and Mexican and grew up in the Central Valley city, 200 miles south-east of San Francisco.
“I was shaking,” recalled his mother, Mysti Medina, 38, who also participated in the rally against police brutality. “I’ve been pulled over and harassed by cops before, but this was very scary.”
The police – who confirmed the Medinas’ version of events – eventually took the handcuffs off Justice and gave him a citation for two misdemeanor charges stemming from his protests: “Obstructing the sidewalk” and holding a “special event” without a permit. If convicted, he could face a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
This continued response by police to Black Lives Matter protesters further illustrates Dyer’s hypocritical “Community Policing.“
While Noble’s killing has raised serious questions about the department’s use of lethal force, the police response to the ensuing protests led by white people has also shed light on what activists say is a pattern of police disproportionately targeting communities of color.
It is evident that Jerry Dyer polices some people much differently than others. And if that disproportionate policing of protests isn’t determined by skin color, then maybe Dyer should explain this obvious double standard to the people he is supposed to be serving, because people are taking notice.
Read the rest of the piece published today by The Guardian:
Police, meanwhile, were deliberately passive in their response to the protest.
“We do everything we can to de-escalate the situation,” police chief Jerry Dyer told the Guardian days after the rally. “There was absolutely no confrontation.”
One officer even allowed a protester to use the police loudspeaker to address the crowd, which a local TV station caught on camera.
“Tempers were flaring on both sides,” recalled Bryce Lindlahr, the protester who used the police PA system to encourage the crowd to be peaceful and focus on mourning their friend.
There were no arrests or citations, according to police captain Andy Hall, and the gathering dissipated.
US commentators quickly drew comparisons to police responses to Black Lives Matter protests, which have ended in mass arrests and teargas.
But activists did not have to look as far as New York City or Ferguson, Missouri, to make claims about unequal treatment of minority protesters.
“If I walked up to a police car and tried to use their PA system, I wouldn’t be talking today,” said Floyd Harris Jr, a reverend and black activist in Fresno.
Harris, 45, founder of the civil rights group International Network in Action, has marched in several Black Lives Matter protests in Fresno in an effort to push for increased accountability in the local police agency.
At a 10 August 2015 protest, police closely monitored the reverend’s movements, records show.
“Mr Harris willfully entered the roadway and maliciously obstructed the free movement of many individuals,” a police report read. “In addition the use of loud speakers and protest chants were threatening and annoying to citizens attempting to freely utilize the roadway.”
Later, Harris was charged with obstructing the streets and organizing an “unlawful event” without a permit. Two other activists, a black woman and a Latino woman, also faced traffic violation misdemeanor charges for their involvement in the protest, records show.
Harris said the protest attracted large crowds, including white residents, but that the police targeted people of color for prosecution.
“It was really more about silencing me for bringing attention to Fresno.”
Harris thought the agreement was harsh and that police should spend more time working to prevent deadly shootings by officers instead of wasting resources going after protesters.
“It’s OK for black and brown children to be murdered, but I’ve got to get permission to exercise my constitutional right?”
Harris became particularly furious, however, when he saw how police were apparently kind to white activists at the Noble protest – letting them block traffic without facing consequences and even giving them a microphone to amplify their message.
“It’s just a double standard,” Harris said.
It was Justice Medina’s very first protest when he learned that local police don’t always let activists take to the streets with impunity.
‘They want to silence me’
After police recently killed black men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Falcon Heights, Minnesota, – in two cases captured in disturbing videos – Justice wanted to help raise awareness in his community.
On 9 July, he and more than 500 others marched in the streets of Fresno shouting “No justice, no peace” and “Hands up, don’t shoot”.
Police monitored Justice’s actions and later got a warrant for his arrest. A few days later, officers tried to deliver the citation at his house. Unable to reach him there, officers spotted him at a second Black Lives Matter protest and handcuffed him after following him and his mother on their way out.
“I do have a target on my back,” said Justice, who is also an aspiring rapper. “I’m just trying to bring the community together. They want to silence me.”
The department even published Justice’s photo on its Facebook page with the title “PROTEST ORGANIZER ARRESTED” and posted video of him on YouTube.
Hall, the Fresno police captain who oversees protests, said the Black Lives Matter rally that led to Medina’s citations was a threat to the public.
“It was frightening to block that much traffic,” Hall said. “I understand they’re against us. I fully appreciate it. That’s OK … But my goal is to allow the protest, but do it in a way that does not put anyone’s life in danger.”
Hall claimed that the reason the “White Lives Matter” protest didn’t end in citations was that it was “spontaneous” and didn’t last very long. He said the department uniformly targeted protest leaders who plan and execute illegal street closures, and that it’s unlikely they would ever serve jail time.
Activists said it would be better if police consistently exercised the restraint they showed white protesters at Noble’s vigil.
“If white people can protest in the street without permits, they should let black and brown people do the same thing,” said Robert Navarro, a Fresno civil rights attorney who has represented the Rev Harris.
Justice and his mother said they would not be deterred by the police’s citations.
“Words can’t express how proud I am,” said Mysti. “He’s trying to help his community. Why are [the police] trying to tear him down?”