By Rev. Floyd D. Harris Jr.
(Editor’s Note: The first part of this article was written in December 2006, the latter part written in January 2017. It has been edited for clarity.)
December 19, 2006: As we come around to Black History Month again it is business as usual with the city and county of Fresno. The same old lying politicians from our local government are playing with African American history. The government has done a wonderful job of manipulating people into believing that they care about oppressed people, but in fact, the government receives more profits by making sure the American people are clueless as to what their social needs are.
We all know that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a man who gave his life fighting for justice for black people, following God’s teachings. Dr. King gave his life like just as Jesus died on the cross, and he died for all people. Now every year you march in the streets of Fresno to celebrate the history of Dr. King and all the sacrifices he made, along with other civil rights leaders. There are tons of injustices taking place in the City of Fresno – from police brutality to homelessness, the dismantling of the Human Relations Commission to unemployment, from AIDS and inadequate public education to environmental racism and bad air and water quality.
The City of Fresno received an All-American City award in June 2000 but the problem with the award is it does not include poor people. Just this past year, 2006, the ACLU, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and the Heller Ehrman Law Firm came to Fresno to file a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction in order to stop the relentless attacks on Fresno homeless residents. Clothing, medication, tents, blankets, and personal possessions such as family photographs and personal records have been destroyed. The California State Chapter of the National Action Network (NAN) under my leadership as state president brought youths from NAN to clean up the homeless area and set a precedent, to show the city of Fresno that they didn’t have to destroy those belongings.
NAN organized a sleep-out on the steps of Fresno City Hall, along with other local and statewide organizations, to bring more attention to the problems we are having here in Fresno. We first formed a prayer chain in front of city hall to pray for our leaders. We gave out socks, coats, shoes, food, etc. to replace the things that had been destroyed by the Fresno Police and Sanitation Department. We sang songs to uplift the spirit of everyone to let them know that there is still hope and we will not let the flame of justice go out.
If Dr. King were alive today I know he would have been on the front lines with us in Fresno denouncing the Fresno Police Department, Mayor, City Manager, Sanitation Department, and the representative from District #3 for violating the constitutional rights of poor people. Every year you see these people in the front of the march and at the microphone say they believe in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, speaking about how wonderful he was, while they act totally the opposite of Dr. King’s legacy. If we are going to march for the celebration of Dr. King, then let’s march for something that will bring justice to the community. Stop letting the government dictate how we organize or celebrate anyone’s birthday. We will not march to feel good or to get some exercise, but we will march to demand FREEDOM, JUSTICE, PEACE and EQUALITY for all people.
The people in power want to get close to you so you will not hold them to public accountability. I protest against police brutality 365 days a year but on Dr. King’s birthday I’m expected to march hand-in-hand with the politicians who are making life hell for my people and who don’t give a damn about God’s people as we sing “WE SHALL OVERCOME SOMEDAY.” The statement that Malcolm X said is very true – he said, there is too much singing going on in America and not enough “SWING.” I’m not a HYPOCRITE. I don’t eat from the oppressor’s table. He or she has nothing that I want but liberation for my people. When you have people in political office who cannot stand up for you when you are being abused then those representatives need to be recalled.
Nothing has changed in America but one thing, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) have taken off their white sheets and put on blue suits and a necktie. White supremacy, Jim Crow, Willie Lynch are alive and flying around in America and Fresno, California. These people now sit in positions of power in the government offices. They are Lawyers, Judges, Police Officers, Doctors, Congressmen and Pastors. They will lead the way when you are marching down the street or participating in the City of Fresno 22nd Annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration 2007, Living the Dream: Let Freedom Ring for Peace, Justice, and Healing for all.
We as people of color have not received a Dream, Freedom, Peace, Justice, or Healing for over 400 years in America!
January 16, 2017: I see many people holding a banner of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that reads “Let Freedom Ring” For Equality, Justice, and Civil Rights. I noticed today the City of Fresno had about 4000 people who marched in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.
I know the Fresno Police Department and surrounding law enforcement were front and center leading the march.
If Dr. King was here today would he be marching there or would he be protesting the injustice that goes on in the City of Fresno? Would Dr. King stand with the loved ones of the individuals I have listed below and many more? Where is the justice for these good people?
1. Dylan Noble: He was an unarmed 19-year-old killed by an officer of the Fresno Police Department on June 25, 2016. BUT NOBODY CARES!
2. Gerald Miller: Three months before the African American officer was eligible to retire from the Fresno Police Department, Chief Jerry Dyer fired him without cause after 21 years of service. BUT NOBODY CARES!
3. Freddy Centeno: He was a 40-year-old, mentally disabled man killed by Fresno Police Department officers on September 3, 2015. BUT NOBODY CARES!
4. In 2017, where are the 4,000 people who march in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when mothers and fathers lose their children to law enforcement? Dr. King is turning over in his grave saying how dare you allow the U.S. government co-opt my legacy?
5. West Fresno [which is overwhelmingly African American and Latino] is the only community in the San Joaquin Valley that has a park on top of a landfill mound (piled garbage) for our children to play on. It’s called Hyde Park. BUT NOBODY CARES!
6. Life expectancy in West Fresno is more than 20 years lower than North Fresno, according to a 2012 study done by a team of researchers including the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at Fresno State. BUT NOBODY CARES!
7. West Fresno has higher asthma rates, more widespread poverty, much higher infant mortality, and lower birth weights that scientists link to poor air quality, chemical exposure, and a host of other problems than other parts of Fresno. BUT NOBODY CARES!
8. According to the Brookings Institution West Fresno has one of the highest concentrations of poverty in the country. BUT NOBODY CARES!
9. Keeping the animal rendering plant Darling International in West Fresno after 50 years operating without a conditional use permit and years of evidence it is a health hazard to residents: BUT NOBODY CARES!
10. Fresno Unified School District is the 4th largest school district in California but does not have any male African American principals. BUT NOBODY CARES!
11. According to a lawsuit filed in December by civil rights groups, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is violating the constitutional rights of homeless people by confiscating and destroying their property in ongoing sweeps. On multiple occasions, Caltrans has failed to give proper notice before raiding encampments — refusing plaintiffs an opportunity to move their belongings before destroying them in trash compactors. BUT NOBODY CARES!
I want you to look back on the past year and ask yourself these questions:
Living What Dream?
Living What Freedom?
Living What Peace?
Living What Justice?
Living What Healing for all?
Rev. Dr. Floyd D. Harris Jr. is the International President of the National Network In Action. You may contact him at 1106 W. Woodward Fresno, CA, 93706, (559) 790-4277. Visit his website: http://xyfloyd.wixsite.com/nnia or go to the Facebook page of the National Network In Action or Floyd Harris Jr.