By Ernesto Saavedra
It was a sunny day Dec. 27, 2014, in Fresno. People were slowly recovering from the holidays and preparing for New Year’s. Early that afternoon, while many were on their way to shop and eat around the River Park shopping area, an estimated 60 people marched on Blackstone Avenue, a major street in Fresno. They marched from Nees Avenue, south to Herndon Avenue, turning into Pinedale and other surrounding neighborhoods, stopping traffic for a few hours. Chanting “All Black Lives Matter” and “Film the Police, No Justice No Peace,” those marching were enthusiastic about bringing the message to an area of town not used to protests, much less against police brutality, in hopes that their message is heard. However, not everyone was happy about it.
Covering the story for KMPH Fox 26, Liz Gonzalez notes that the march on Dec. 27 was the biggest disruption as of date and Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer’s patience is wearing thin. Dyer states, “We will be seeking out a warrant for those individuals that are in violation of a misdemeanor obstructing a roadway.” He goes on, “The citizens of Fresno should not have to pay for police officers to be present to block off those roadways and take those police officers away from their neighborhoods.”
Blocking the streets is technically against the law. One needs either a city permit or to simply march on the sidewalk. However, there is a bigger issue at hand. Law enforcement in Fresno and the nation are corrupt. Brutality that Black, Brown and other historically marginalized communities have faced for centuries must stop at the expense of the power structure, not those protesting with the only thing they’ve got—their voices.
I asked Brian Sumner, independent journalist and member of the Fresno Coalition Against Police Brutality, a loose coalition of concerned community members, what he thought about Dyer’s response, “Dyer claims that everyone has the freedom to free speech, but he contradicts himself when he claims the protesters are breaking the law when they demonstrate without permits. If something is illegal without permits, and legal with one, isn’t that just the government monetizing crime?”
Monetizing “crime” or making it harder to demonstrate? Whatever the case maybe, it is definitely interesting that when the streets near River Park were blocked off, Dyer had a problem. However, he was relatively mute, as was the corporate media, when streets in West and East Fresno were blocked off a few weeks earlier. Seems that demonstrations are inconvenient when it keeps people from spending money and take place in North Fresno. Then again, Dyer and other law enforcement in Fresno County must be overwhelmed with, what they claim is, an increase in crime since the passage of Proposition 47.
Prop 47 was approved by voters in November 2014. It redefines some nonviolent offenses such as shoplifting and drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. This means that people who commit such crimes will be less likely to be incarcerated and those incarcerated for crimes covered by the proposition can petition for a resentencing with the possibility of an early release. To the surprise of no one, local law enforcement was not in support of Prop 47.
In “Crime is up, and Fresno County law enforcement leaders blame Prop. 47,” Fresno Bee reporter John Ellis quotes newly appointed District Attorney Lisa A. Smittcamp, “I don’t think we are ready to handle what is going to come out of (Prop) 47.”
Dyer agreed, Ellis states, referencing the following statistics, “In the first 10 months of 2014…auto theft was down 26%. In November, it was up 7.8%, and in December 9.8%. Burglaries showed similar trends, the chief said.”
Sheriff Mims is also not a fan. In the article, Mims is referenced stating property crimes have gone up in Fresno County since the passage of Prop 47.
I asked Robert Navarro, local attorney at law, what his take was on all this:
The statements that local crime rates are up because of Proposition 47 this soon after its passage are pure speculation and, frankly, fear mongering. Until there are some actual statistics with responsible analysis, there is no truth to the allegation…I had a client who was just released under Prop 47, who went to prison in 1997 over a single conviction of simple drug possession and sentenced to 25 years to life under Three Strikes. He had no violence in his history. He was 62 years old. He ended up spending 17 years in prison over what the People of California determined should be no more than a misdemeanor. The community should realize that Prop 47 will result in diverting the lowest-level offenders from getting drowned in the criminal justice system giving them an opportunity to keep or find employment, seek appropriate counseling and services while taking care of themselves and their families.
With mass protests against police brutality and the passage of laws like Prop 47 here in California, it is no wonder why police are on edge nowadays. Law enforcement is pointing the finger at everyone else but at law enforcement. No critical thinking and accountability in sight. Wherever you stand on the spectrum regarding law enforcement (from “not all cops are bad” to “F the Police!”), one thing is true, there is something wrong with the system. Something that many have known for a long while; the only difference is that it is trending and people are doing something about it now.
The people’s patience is wearing thin.