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Good afternoon, and welcome to the Fresnoland Lab newsletter. Today is Friday, July 31.
It is Dympna Ugwu-Oju, editor of the Fresnoland Lab, here.
Did you see my interview with Jerry Dyer, mayor-elect and former Fresno police chief, that we shared earlier this week? It produced a lot of information that I did not expect.
First, I was not expecting him to be so affable. He was chatty and seemed very relaxed. I had anticipated a resistance. He knew the interview was about Fresno’s Black community — an area that would be uncomfortable for most people and particularly one, who as chief of police, presided over a contentious relationship between his agency and Blacks, not counting the rampant accusations of profiling, harassment and brutality.
I knew that interviewing Dyer, long before he actually became mayor, was important, particularly in the context of today’s social justice movement, where the injustices of police departments against communities of color have come into sharp focus. Because of his long police career, I felt it necessary that he be given a chance to address the concerns of the Black community about the kind of mayor he would be.
Dyer’s record with Black and Latino communities in Fresno has left many skeptical that he is fit to lead a city of which around two-thirds of the population identify as people of color. A 2017 report by the ACLU, “Reducing Officer-Involved Shootings in Fresno” from 2001 to 2016, confirmed what everyone already knew — that Black and Hispanic residents were more likely to have officer-involved shootings in their communities than white residents. Dyer was chief of police from 2001-2019.
Also, “Fresno’s Mason-Dixon Line” — a 2018 story in The Atlantic — described Fresno PD’s racial profiling and how arrest rates for people of color, particularly African Americans in the southwest Fresno area, represented almost a quarter of the arrests made, even though Blacks were 7.5% of the population. This happened under Dyer’s watch.
It was equally important that the Black community saw him outside of his police officer mode. It was an opportunity for both sides to start a mutually beneficial conversation.
“I’ve learned from making mistakes as a leader. It’s those mistakes that you made that humble you, that then cause you to listen more,” Dyer said. “The longer I was in my position as a police chief, the more I realized that I didn’t know what I thought I knew.” This is my favorite quote of the entire 30,000-plus word interview. It surprised me that he readily admits it; it shows a humility and, I think, a willingness to learn.
Dyer spoke about his background — his father who literally pulled himself up by his bootstraps — having dropped out of high school to support his family; he worked nonstop in back-breaking jobs. Jerry Dyer learned hard work as well as tenacity from his father. He also followed his father’s footsteps and joined the police force.
“I moved into a profession that was a very tough profession,” Dyer said. “You saw things that really no human mind can process — the types of violence you see, children being shot, molested, abused, and it can have a hardening effect on your heart.”
Somewhere along the path of his career, he found God and asked for forgiveness and was reborn. Dyer said this led him to a greater understanding of crime and the people he was policing. “Criminals are not born; gang members are not born; they evolve, because they don’t have the proper parenting; they grow up in a disadvantaged neighborhood where they are recruited into gangs, and they don’t have a fair chance in life from the start.”
Dyer said that he is able to see things a lot more clearly since he retired from the police force last year. He is working with many people in the Black community to create economic opportunities and bridge the gap between Fresno PD and the Black community. He wants to see a more robust community-oriented policing. He is also mindful of his legacy to Blacks in Fresno and wants to be remembered as “as a person who cared and gave everything for the community.”
He is inheriting a city that has a long way to go to achieve racial and economic justice for all residents. Last year, Fresno was ranked 59th of 59 cities in California for racial and economic inclusion, according to research by the Urban Institute.
The question is, will he make good on his promises to Fresno’s Black community?
(What stories are not being told in our coverage right now? Send tips to us: email@example.com)
And now, the week’s top reads:
(For the most recent local coronavirus updates, visit www.fresnobee.com/coronavirus.)
Have you had trouble trying to apply for Fresno’s housing retention grant program? You are not alone. Fresnoland/Fresno Bee
The coronavirus crisis has officially hit the Valley. Data, past decisions provide key lessons for moving forward. Fresno Bee
Concerned about meeting your rent during this pandemic? You are not alone. Fresno Bee
Public Health experts say that Latinos are contracting Covid-19 at disproportionate rates because of stress resulting from systemic biases in many spheres of life. Fresno Bee
Undocumented residents of California may receive unemployment benefits if some state legislators have their way. Fresno Bee
Black and brown people are more likely to see pollution as a serious threat. Fresno Bee
The nation’s economy is plunging under the weight of the coronavirus. Fresno Bee
Gov. Gavin Newsom has formed a “strike team” to address complaints from Californians who are still waiting to get unemployment benefits. Los Angeles Times
President Trump repealed rule meant to integrate neighborhoods, further stoking racial divisions. Los Angeles Times
More than a quarter of California legislators are also landlords. CalMatters
Democrats and Republicans are still far apart in their negotiations to extend the Coronavirus aid. New York Times
Sanger resident and Fresno State professor Dr. Tania Pacheco-Werner has been appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. The Business Journal