By Blake Evans
They say justice is blind, and yet a deep injustice befalls our city. In Southwest Fresno, a staggering 33% of murders go unsolved, a vast majority of which involve minority victims. Furthermore, the police presence that does exist in the community is perceived as actively hostile to the residents, seeking punishment over protection. And yet, despite the cries from Southwest residents for police reform, the grievances of the community remain unanswered. Take, for example, the case of Adalberto Ocampo, better known to his friends and family as ‘Cuate’. ‘Cuate’ was murdered in cold blood returning home from the bus stop.
When the police “investigated”, they profiled Cuate as a criminal. He wasn’t. They concluded his death had been gang-related. It hadn’t. And finally, when Cuate’s body was taken to the hospital, his family hoped to visit him to give him his last hugs and kisses. They couldn’t. Police actively prohibited the family of Cuate from seeing him, without giving his family a reason why. Sadly, Cuate’s story is just one of many. Another Fresno resident, Lucy Xiong, was found dead in a canal, after running away following an argument with her mom. While the official narrative is that the Xiong case is ongoing, the Xiong family have heard nothing of any investigation going forward and still have not received an answer for the circumstances of her murder.
Thus, in light of the discrepancy between crime in Southwest Fresno and police effectiveness, mothers of the community have decided to band together to speak out against this injustice and created a group known as the Mothers for Equal Justice. Headed by local activist, Gloria Hernandez, the Mothers for Equal Justice staged a press conference with the Fresno City Police on March 29, to speak directly to Fresno Police Department chief, Jerry Dyer, about their concerns of the Southwest Fresno policing problem. Their issues had been largely dismissed.
Hernandez reports Dyer told the group, there are already cameras surveilling Southwest Fresno (though residents report never seeing them). On the following Saturday, the Mothers with the support of Black Lives Matter Fresno and of the Fresno Brown Berets staged a march where protesters marched from the West Fresno Family Resource Center to the Justice Corner (intersection of Fresno and C streets). Despite having the large support of the Southwest Fresno community, the march itself was largely ignored by the local news, with virtually no reporters speaking about this movement.
So now for the most pertinent question, what changes do the residents want to see? Too often, reform is done from the outside looking in, by policy makers far removed from the communities they seek to change. But what if rather than attempting to deduce what issues the communities are facing, we simply ask the residents what they want to see? I sat down with Gloria Hernandez, the chief organizer of the Mothers for Equal Justice, who did just that, going door to door asking residents of Southwest Fresno what changes they’d like to see with police presence in the area.
One of the biggest concerns residents have is the impersonal nature of police in the area. Hernandez says she asks Southwest Fresno residents how many cops they personally know besides family. They usually don’t know any. Police patrol Southwest Fresno as faceless authority figures, looming over neighborhoods, leading to an erosion of trust and cultivating a culture of fear. Whatever happened to on the street policing, residents ask? Cops today don’t even get out of their car, they don’t get to know the residents of the communities they are supposed to keep “safe”. How can there be effective policing of a community without an understanding of the socioeconomic and cultural forces that makes a community unique?
Secondly, Southwest Fresno residents are concerned with the lack of mental health services offered in the community. As Hernandez points out, “Much of our youth are traumatized by the violence in our community, but where are the therapists?” Rather than punishment, Southwest Fresno needs rehabilitation.
Finally, Southwest Fresno residents want a more compassionate police force. A police force with dignity and respect for the citizens of the community. A police force that isn’t quick to assume gang activity for every young male death. A police force that actually investigates every murder. A police force that allows the families of victims to part with their loved ones. How can you question the lack of trust in the police the residents feel when Southwest Fresnans are immediately assumed to be guilty criminals by the people allegedly protecting them?
As Mrs. Hernandez puts it, “why is there no equality? We pay taxes just like North Fresno but get nothing return”. Southwest Fresno residents have seen that the failures of policing in the community lead to a sense of dissonance. While FPD continues to boast the “changes” they’re making to make our city safer, Southwest Fresnans are scratching their heads, wondering “What’s changed?”