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Good morning, and welcome to the Fresnoland Lab newsletter. Today is Friday, June 5th.
“I had felt it was my responsibility to raise extraordinary black people — just so they would never be perceived as threats or violent or anti-social.” Our new Fresnoland editor, Dr. Dympna Ugwu-Oju, shares a powerful personal essay that reflects on the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, as a black mother. Read it here.
In today’s newsletter, I interviewed Marcel Woodruff, a youth organizer with Faith in the Valley and a longtime advocate for community investment and safety in southwest and southeast Fresno neighborhoods. Woodruff was one of the speakers of the “We Can’t Breathe” protest in downtown Fresno on Sunday, May 31. Below is our conversation which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
How did you get involved in Sunday’s protest?
One of the things I’ve been trying to do is get youth I work with involved and engaged with college students. Through that, we had formed a really good relationship with the Fresno State NAACP. The youth [at Fresno State NAACP] let me know they were interested in organizing a protest and asked if I would support and join their planning meetings. It was really incredible what they did, with about two or three days of turnaround.
What does Sunday’s protest mean to you? How is it different from other community protest events?
This goes back to when Ferguson happened — there was a lot of pain in the community. At the time, the narrative in Fresno was — ‘Nah, we’re too late.’ No matter how hard it gets, people weren’t going to do anything about it. But Sunday was this beautiful expression that people are going to do this, do it peacefully. The power of this is symbolic — we are moving into a new Fresno.
Sunday is different to me because it was spearheaded, organized and driven by youth. And they did it in a special way. The organizers wanted to honor the people that live in Fresno, who do work in Fresno, to allow it to challenge and shape them. Is this a new era in Fresno? Definitely. That event was an awakening for a lot of Fresno residents. The energy from the event is still pushing on a lot of people and expanding their worldviews.
The youth have created their list of demands. And now it’s about organizing that momentum, figuring out who the allies are, who are supportive of the reforms that are needed in Fresno, what things we do not know that they need to tell us, how we can get on the City Council agenda.
Let’s talk about Advance Peace. You were very close to getting the city to set aside funds in the budget last year for the program until Mayor Brand vetoed it. What does it do?
Advance Peace is a program that started in the City of Richmond’s Office of Public Safety which is tasked with reducing gun violence. They started approaching the problem in a more traditional way — assuming that all black and brown children are potential shooters — and that creating more general programs for them will somehow reduce gun violence. But it wasn’t making a difference statistically. A guy — DeVone Boggan — comes along and starts asking questions. How many people are actually shooting? They had about 100 people on the active shooter list. Boggan said, ‘Give me the shooter list, and I will work with them.’ So he started working with them, mentoring, providing food and support for other basic needs. And through this targeted program of mentorship and support, they found that gun violence went down by 55 percent in Richmond. It gave active shooters a pathway to negotiate a better life. They also found out that 90 percent of people that went through the Advance Peace fellowship program weren’t being touched by any community program at all.
A lot of people get hung up on this idea that we’re paying gang bangers not to shoot. In Richmond, 90 percent of the funds for the fellows goes towards food. It rang a bell for me — so often I have a kid reaching out to me, asking me, ‘Can you take me to Panda Express or Taco Bell?’ Doing something in that moment became the difference between getting that kid something that he needed or seeing him on the Fresno Police Department’s Facebook page for a robbery or something. You see the linkages really quickly. If a kid is hungry, what’s he going to do? And this is about transportation, too. Can people be safe in their environment and have access to the things that they need?
How does Advance Peace relate to the ongoing conversation we are having about community policing in Fresno?
Community policing is always defined by the police. Here’s my definition: community policing is a relationship between the police department and individuals that goes beyond knowing who people are. It develops a shared responsibility for the safety, health and overall quality of life in their community, in a way that’s not interfered by the police department.
We’ve learned, in the Advance Peace program, that in order to invest in a fellow, it takes three contacts a day. ‘How are you doing? what do you need?’ In addition to working with these individuals, investing in these individuals, how do we create new pathways for them to move in the world without doing more damage to them?
This is what I mean — if there is a shooting in the neighborhood, the police department starts suppression. They [the officers] are all over the place. People would be sent back to jail even though they had nothing to do with it. I had one student; he was doing great; he was on probation. During a suppression, he was accused of running away — they [the police] pulled him out of his house, put him back in jail. He was arrested a few times after this incident. He never got back right after this arrest — felt like, ‘what’s the point, I was doing good, and went to jail anyway.’ He’s still in jail.
Community policing needs to help individuals be agents of their own change.
What do you think about the police abolitionist movement?
I’m a police abolitionist. That’s my framework. The American imagination has been so contaminated and poisoned by our history of wrongdoing against people of color, beginning with slavery. We have come to this place where we can’t imagine a world without police. But police departments have these origins in slavery, as slave patrols. As an abolitionist, it means I have the capacity to imagine a different future.
Realistically, we can’t do that tomorrow. We have to identify underlying roots of certain practices in the police department and change things to be more preventative instead of reactive.
But ultimately, it looks like a divestment from policing and an investment into the community overall, and a move to a world where we don’t need the police at all.
(What stories are not being told in our coverage right now? Send tips to me: email@example.com)
And now, the week’s top reads:
(For the most recent local coronavirus updates, visit www.fresnobee.com/coronavirus.)
In the central San Joaquin Valley, no violence was reported as approximately 3,500 people protested the killing of George Floyd on Sunday. The march was led by the CSU Fresno chapter of the NAACP. Fresno Bee
How cities offload the cost of police brutality. CityLab
8:46 — 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the amount of time that Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged with his murder, pinned George Floyd’s neck with his knee — has become a rallying cry against police brutality. Associated Press
Why communities who are fighting for fair policing also demand environmental justice. Los Angeles Times
“This is the first summer that we know we’re not going to run out of water,” said Rebecca Quintana, a long-time activist for clean water in Seville, an eastern Tulare County town. Fresno Bee
What happens when the eviction bans end? CityLab
Growing calls to defund the police, explained. Vox
Ten water districts are eyeing flood flows from the San Joaquin River, one of California’s most over-subscribed rivers. SJV Water
Despite lawsuits, state and federal officials continue discussions over the Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta water. Western Farm Press
Yosemite National Park opened this week, but only to those with existing wilderness permits and those with permits to hike Half Dome, park officials announced Tuesday. Fresno Bee
If you are feeling outraged about the George Floyd murder and racial inequalities but not sure how you can help? Here are ways that you can start the racial healing Los Angeles Times
Unemployment for Hispanic workers and white workers dropped sharply in May, while the jobless rate for black adults remained high. New York Times