Across the country, a movement to defund the police has strengthened over the past eight months, particularly by the death of George Floyd — a 46-year-old Black man who was killed while being detained by Minneapolis Police in May.
The movement first started in the late 1960s and early 1970s by the Black Panther Party. Now, the movement is gaining traction in Fresno — a city where many people of color have been shot by police officers.
A report by the American Civil Liberties Union of California, published in November 2017, said there were at least 146 officer-involved shootings in Fresno between 2001-2016.
According to the report, the ones most impacted are South Fresno residents, while 22% of officer-involved shooting victims were Black, despite accounting for only 8% of the city’s population.
Members of the campus community at Fresno State are working with organizations to change police policy, especially on issues like excessive force by police.
The Fresno State National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter, along with Fresno State professors, collaborated on these efforts to fix policing in Fresno, working in tandem with organizations like Faith in the Valley, Advance Peace and the Fresno Commission for Police Reform (FCPR).
“When we say defund, we mean removing it from those systematically and inherently racist policies. Policies that literally actively work to uproot systems of disenfranchisement and [instead] really work to create a better world, one that provides equality and justice and safety to everybody,” said D’Aungillique Jackson, president of the Fresno State NAACP.
The Fresno State NAACP hosted a march on May 31, where hundreds gathered to honor Floyd’s death. It was named the “We Can’t Breathe” protest to demonstrate against the nation’s criminal justice system.
Jackson said that the justice system should not make people afraid to participate in daily activities while being Black including driving, answering a cellphone in the backyard, listening to music at home and telling a police officer the state allows for concealed carry.
After the protest, where dissidents gathered in front of the Fresno Police Department to demand police reforms and improvement in community safety, the Fresno mayor and the Fresno City Council developed the FCPR.
The FCPR includes four subcommittees — the Community Input Committee, Community Engagement Committee, Budget Committee and Training, Tactics, Policies and Philosophy Committee.
Andrew Jones, a sociology professor at Fresno State, was a consultant for the Community Input Committee. Alongside Jones was Jackson, who chaired the committee. Their job was to survey the Fresno residents on how they feel about the Fresno Police Department (FPD).
The Community Input Committee performed four different data collections: online surveys, telephone surveys, focus group interviews and solicited comments from community members and interest groups. An organization called We Are Not Invisible also helped distribute paper surveys to Fresno’s homeless population.
According to Jones, the committee found that the more affluent white neighborhoods trust the FPD and are satisfied with its services. Those who live in impoverished communities with large populations of minorities have little trust in the police and say they’ve experienced more excessive force and targeting by police.
But the homeless population had the worst relationship with the police.
“We made sure to highlight our homeless community members to make sure to amplify their voices since there was an entire task force dedicated to policing them,” Jackson said.
One of their goals was to create a report for the commission that would lead to an understanding between those negatively impacted groups and the police.
“We hope that such a reconciliation will create a safer city for everyone,” Jones said. “Doing so requires an acknowledgment of the problems created by city policies and procedures dictating how the police department operates and the problems created by retention and protection of officers who have a history of violating people’s civil rights.”
Jones reports that Fresno has already allocated $1 million toward enacting the recommendations from the FCPR. There were 73 recommendations on the report. Some will be easy to enact, while others will require long-term structural changes.
“Given the data obtained by the Community Input Committee and the need for reconciliation between communities and the Fresno Police Department, I do not think the city council can afford to ignore the public’s demands for change,” Jones said.
Multiple organizations have also helped with the movement to reform the police department.
Jackson said uSpark Valley was a great supporter of the Fresno State NAACP. Both organizations created flyers and formed a campaign to get millennials and Generation Z residents to complete the commission surveys.
Advance Peace is a program that started over the summer that deals with gun violence prevention. The program pairs residents with those at risk of committing gun violence with life coaches to help them get job opportunities and social services.
“[Advance Peace] is geared towards working with the community and educating the communities where gun violence is prevalent to talk about different ways of dealing with the community’s problems that don’t involve pulling out a gun,” said Amber Crowell, an assistant sociology professor at Fresno State.
Faith in the Valley is another organization that works to better the lives of communities in the Central Valley by promoting racial justice and health equity.
“I work with Faith in the Valley, a grassroots organization, and they were a very big part of getting Advance Peace to Fresno,” Crowell said.
To understand why defunding the police is important, Cromwell says it is essential to look at the history behind policing in the United States.
“If you look back at the history of policing, the first police forces in the country, their existence was to keep slaves under control, and keep slaves from running away from the property,” Crowell said.
Fresno residents have expressed the need for police reforms by protesting, participating in Black Lives Matter movements and participating in surveys. However, Cromwell feels there are still many misconceptions about what defunding the police means and how it can help the community.
“I think a lot of people think that it means doing away with law enforcement altogether, and people have the sense that it’s ultimately law enforcement that is keeping them from becoming victims of crime,” Crowell said.
According to Crowell, for the past 50 to 60 years, funding for the FPD has increased, but crime rates have not gone down due to budget growth. She states that significant crime spikes are happening even with the police budget taking half of the overall city’s budget.
“Clarifying what [defunding] means and really understanding the history of police funding is important because it gets people to realize that it is not just about doing away with police and going towards a crime-ridden society,” Crowell said.
Crowell said that there are proactive solutions to crime, like creating healthy environments and opportunities for people in poor neighborhoods, so they don’t resort to crime and get involved in crime.
Many feel that the history of policing in America is rooted in racism, but the FCPR and various grassroots organizations are looking to move Fresno in a more progressive direction.
“Defund means uproot and replant a philosophy and a system in terms of policing that is equal to all people that provide equity, that genuinely provides safety and protection,” Jackson said.
Written with a contribution from Zaeem Shaikh and Anthony De Leon