By Hannah Brandt
At 6 a.m. on Sept. 2, a charter bus pulled up to the St. Rest Baptist Church in west Fresno to meet 40 bleary-eyed passengers headed to a rally in the state capital to promote AB 953, the California Assembly bill to outlaw police profiling due to race, religion, gender, gender identity and/or sexual orientation. Ministers, parents, teachers, community organizers, law students, activists, social workers and others gathered from the Fresno area to show support for the bill and the community.
As the bus pulled into Sacramento, connections were made to past civil rights activism through message and melody. It is just as relevant today to sing, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around, turn us around, turn us around. Ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around. We’re gonna keep on a-walkin’, keep on a-talkin’, marching into freedom land.” In keeping with the new movement, pictures and streaming video of the events were posted instantaneously to social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat to grow the cause.
After meeting at St. John’s Lutheran Church at 9 a.m. to organize and inspire, the movement flowed out onto the alphabet soup streets around the capital building. Signs with pictures of slain citizens, drum beats and righteous anger filled the air. Chants of “No Justice, No Peace; No Racist Police” could be heard as the mass of bodies snaked down L and H streets.
About a thousand people participated in this action to bring awareness to the issue of discrimination and brutality by police and demand that Gov. Jerry Brown sign AB 953 into law. State Assembly Member Shirley Weber (D– San Diego), who introduced the bill in the legislature, spoke in support of AB 953 before the crowd.
The bill would require that “guidelines be established to develop training to prescribe patterns, practices and protocols that prevent racial and identity profiling, as defined. The bill would enact the Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015, which would revise the definition of racial profiling to refer to racial or identity profiling. It would require beginning July 1, 2016, that the Attorney General establish the Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board (RIPA) to eliminate racial and identity profiling and improve diversity and racial and identity sensitivity in law enforcement.”
At 10 a.m. on the south lawn of the capital, presentations were made by various organizers from throughout the state. Students held signs behind the speakers in solidarity. Pastor D.J. Criner from St. Rest Baptist Church recalled his experience with the Fresno police when he was harassed outside his home in his primarily White neighborhood, in front of his young daughter. Rev. Bryson White told Andrea Castillo of the Fresno Bee about the time police drew a weapon on him in Fig Garden when he was 19 years old. His offense? Driving 45 miles per hour in a 40 mile per hour zone.
Part of the event was a “die-in” every 30 minutes for four minutes each to represent the four hours Michael Brown’s body laid unattended to in Ferguson, Mo. Black men are seven times more likely to be shot by police than White men. Native Americans are killed by law enforcement at almost identical rates. Transgender women of color are targeted more than any other group. There are more civilian deaths by law enforcement in California than in any other state. It would have been a sight from the air to see the thousand bodies strewn on the south lawn of the state capital building to represent this fact.
At 11:15 a.m., a petition with more than 20,000 signatures supporting AB 953 was delivered to Gov. Brown’s office. The governor did not emerge from behind the giant golden bear statue, barricade of park rangers and bolted double doors as hundreds of protesters stood outside for hours chanting the same demands shouted a bit earlier in the street. “Sign the Bill!” was added. Eventually, a small group remained seated in a circle.
Two participants from Fresno were prepared to be arrested, which authorities threatened to do at one point, but it did not happen. Another group from the Central Valley went inside the capitol building to petition the local representative to pledge support for AB 953. Personal stories of profiling were shared with the spokesperson in both English and Spanish. One White mother described her African American son’s experience as a college student in Reedley. If he is out at night in that town, he is often harassed by police.
Rev. White remarked, “We live with constant discomfort. Now the staffers and policy makers felt that by our action demanding the governor sign the bill.”
A woman agreed saying, “The officers in front of the governor’s office were feeling the discomfort the people feel on a day-to-day basis.”
Back on the bus heading back to West Fresno, one participant said, “This is the System 2015. We haven’t come very far from the 1960s, but we’re more conscious now. We’re not all in the fields. We can take steps to say we won’t take it anymore. We’re all God’s children. We met at the church, first to pray and then to call out injustice. We must take it upon ourselves to care.
“The mentality of law enforcement is callous, a vigilante system. They want us to fear. These shootings actually happened. That is the reason to go to Sacramento, to go to different floors to speak to policymakers, to get a job done. Don’t stop caring. When you see something is wrong, don’t be afraid to speak up against it.”
Pastor Carl Jones added, “Fresno showed up at the capitol today. When I got to work at City Hall, I saw all the slowness and flaws. After the poverty report recently showed the level of economic disparity and lack of upward mobility (only 7%–8%) in Fresno, I saw how much citizens are not educated. It is powerful to go to these legislators and see how it works. Government is the people. You are the government. D.C., Sacramento, Fresno City Hall will only work when you do. Don’t leave it to operate on its own. Laws affect our everyday lives.”
Another voice said, “We can’t stop now. We need to do some more. We’re not going to stand for it.”
On Sept. 25, the We Are Not Targets’ Journey for Justice caravan started at the northern border with Oregon and the southern border with Mexico, stopping in 20 communities across California gathering cards calling on Gov. Brown to sign AB 953. On Sept. 27, a round-the-clock vigil began at the State Capitol determined to stay until Gov. Brown signs the bill.
Hannah Brandt is the editor of the Community Alliance newspaper. Contact her at email@example.com, @FresnoAlliance on Twitter and Instagram, or Community Alliance Newspaper on Facebook.