By Jonathan Noe Luevanos Felix
The Fresno Police Department (FPD) is an organized institution that stands for professionalism. The department is funded by taxpayer money to train competent individuals who must serve and protect the city of Fresno. But according to community organizers, the department has terrorized and oppressed the community. It is an entity that on a whim is capable of becoming judge, jury and executioner. Their cold-blooded professionalism is an offense to the families of shooting victims and the community of Fresno as a whole.
The Office of Independent Review shows that there were 32 officer-involved shootings from January 2012 to June 2014. Organizers have been meeting with the police chief and the city manager at Fresno City Hall to address the ongoing problem of police violence.
Organizer Gloria Hernandez claims that the most recent meeting on Aug. 26 “dragged on with really no solutions at this time.”
One ongoing problem is that it takes longer than a year for the FPD to release an officer-involved shooting report, whereas other departments take 6–8 weeks. According to Hernandez, organizers have asked for various policies and procedures to be addressed such as the implementation of body cameras on officers, proper training of police officers to avoid violence and the requirement to visit a shooting victim’s family six months after a shooting.
In essence, what is being required is police accountability for violence, excessive force and transparency in policies and procedures to promote justice in our community.
Iris Marion Young formulates the five faces of oppression: cultural imperialism, violence, powerlessness, marginalization and exploitation. One must take into consideration the possibility that the police are not oppressing people in our communities mainly through violence especially if one considers the fact that police-involved shootings have diminished in the past 15 years.
Violence is extremely detrimental to a community, and this article in no way aims to shift the momentum from a critical problem in the community. The focus instead is to consider the possibility that the main form of police oppression in Fresno is not violence. In fact, one can even consider that police violence occurs “mildly” in the community not for the sake of oppressive violence but that they kill to indirectly and schematically perpetuate fear and conformity in the community.
In Discipline and Punish, philosopher and social historian Michel Foucault analyzes the historical development of the prison system in Europe. During the 18th century, individuals were commonly executed in public squares for their crimes. But eventually that social custom subsided because that form of oppression was not effective in increasing the power of the bourgeoisie.
Instead, disciplinary systems of punishment or prisons were instituted in order to effectively make use of and profit from people and their bodies. The elements of exploitation, marginalization and powerlessness are strong components of this movement. Disciplinary punishment affects individuals profoundly because human life is enslaved and subjected to a power, whereas in death, one is free from the constraints of the world.
Foucault emphasizes that the social world resembles the oppressive disciplinary functions that exist in the penal system (prisons, jails). If this holds true, it would be interesting to explore police oppression in Fresno in relation to the other elements of oppression by Young. Police oppression is obvious and it is expressed in a number of ways, but it should be emphasized that it exists in order to preserve the status quo, which is better preserved through other forms of oppression than violence.
There is no doubt that police violence is a critical problem. Unjust murders occur, and it is a pain and struggle to realize that we are unsafe in our communities due to trigger-happy police officers.
The main problem is not police violence but a number of problems that must be addressed. To properly address FPD policies and procedures, community members must address not only violence but also the other elements of oppression. The implementation of cameras on cops is for now at least an initial step to monitoring violence and murder in Fresno but also the harassment, abuse and disciplinary power that is constantly perpetuated in our communities.
According to Hernandez, “the public wants assurance that the cameras will stay on during critical times and that the videos be made available to the public and not edited by the police to suit their purpose.”
Jonathan Noe Luevanos Felix was born and raised in Fresno. He holds a Master of Arts in philosophy from San Francisco State University. He is currently involved with community organizations from the Bay Area and Fresno. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.