Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Hundreds Gather at Northeast Fresno Vigil for George Floyd
gvw_david_taub
By David Taub, Senior Reporter
Published 4 years ago on
May 29, 2020

Share

As violent protests dotted Minneapolis and the rest of the country after the death of George Floyd, nearly 200 peaceful protesters gathered for a vigil Friday night in northeast Fresno.

“Black lives matter! It bears repeating,” organizer Karen Polnitz told the crowd, most wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

Video of the Minneapolis officer, Derek Chauvin, with his knee on the back of Floyd’s neck, led to condemnation from Fresno civic and police leaders. Chauvin was arrested on Friday and charged with Floyd’s death.

Vigil Quiet, Peaceful

Protesters lined up for a half-mile on the north side of Alluvial Avenue centered around the Unitarian Universalist Church, many carrying signs. The diverse crowd spanned ages, skin tones, and cultural styles.

They heard speakers talk about injustices that minorities face under unfair policing practices. While the focus was on Floyd, the names of other African-Americans killed in recent shootings that have raised concern such as Breonna Taylor of Louisville, Kentucky, and Ahmaud Arbery from Georgia were mentioned as well.

Erin Hubbard attended with her husband and two young girls. She worries about her husband, who is black.

“I fear when he goes out that he’s not going to come back to his kids and he’s not going to be there to raise them and to see them grow up just because someone thought he looks threatening,” Hubbard said. “It’s important for me to be here and support my community because I want my children’s father to watch them grow up.”

Erin Hubbard attended a vigil for George Floyd with her two young daughters. (GV Wire/David Taub)

Mistrust Between African-Americans and Police

“There’s a level of mistrust that exists within the African-American community with the police department like any anywhere else in the country.” — former Fresno City Councilman and police officer Oliver Baines

Oliver Baines is a former Fresno police officer and city councilman and now is CEO of the Central Valley NMTC, LLC. He shared his perspective on the relationship between the black community and Fresno police Friday.

“There’s a level of mistrust that exists within the African-American community with the police department like any anywhere else in the country,” Baines said.

Baines said that mistrust comes from decades of negative relations between law enforcement and African-American residents.

“I think people fail to realize how historical the sentiment is. It is way beyond what we see happening in this 21st century or 20th century. It extends way beyond that,” Baines said. “It’s deep and it’s visceral and it’s really baked into the DNA of African-Americans around the country.”

Fresno Police Union: Contrary to Our Training

“I’m a white male and I’m not an African-American person living through their spectrum. So it’s harder for me to obviously see what they’re seeing.”FPOA President Todd Frazier

“I was shocked,” Todd Frazier, president of the Fresno Police Officers’ Association, said after watching the video of Floyd.

Frazier talked about how officers are trained to restrain a suspect.

“There are times when we have to get on a person’s back to restrain them, put them in cuffs. But then we are also trained to immediately, once the situation is controlled, get that person off their chest … or at least on their side so they can have a normal chest compression so they can fill their lungs, breathe normally,” Frazier said.

What happened in Minneapolis “was the last thing we wanted to occur.”

“Other (police union) presidents like myself have come out strongly against this. … It’s contrary to our training,” Frazier said.

Motivation for the Vigil

Polnitz, a worship associate for the UU church, had a story similar to Hubbard’s.

My husband “is the most loving man I’ve ever met in my entire life. Yet someone might feel threatened because of his skin color and call the police. That could end in disaster.” — Karen Polnitz of Fresno

“On the national level, it’s very traumatic and very painful. It’s also personal for me. My husband is black and my son is half black. And I fear for them,” Polnitz said. “I think it’s really important for us to spread the word, for us to have a physical presence.”

Polnitz said her husband has reservations about going out food shopping with a mask in the COVID-19 era.

“When he said that to me, it made me realize that the color of his skin could potentially make somebody see him as a threat. He is the most loving man I’ve ever met in my entire life. Yet someone might feel threatened because of his skin color and call the police. That could end in disaster,” Polnitz said.

Polnitz also shared the story at the vigil.

The Unitarian Universalist Church is known for its large “Black Lives Matter” sign that has been a source of controversy in the past.

“I think it’s really important for us to talk about the Black Lives Matter movement and talk about the work that needs to be done to reduce bias, to reduce prejudice so that this type of thing doesn’t happen.”

Karen Polnitz with her husband Troy Polnitz and son Anthony Polnitz. (Karen Polnitz)

A Pastor’s Perspective

“It’s difficult to be black and live in America. It’s a different experience than other people have,” said Pastor B.T. Lewis of Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church in Fresno. “(Police) listen to us differently because we are black. The bias is so implicit and is so embedded in our personalities, our biases against other races. So they don’t hear me the same way that they might hear somebody of a different race.”

“I’m not saying that our city is not without flaws. I’m still afraid. I need to know where my grown children are. The issue of bias and prejudice and racism still exists.” — Pastor B.T. Lewis of Fresno

He says the relationship between the black community and police is better in Fresno than places like the Twin Cities, or Greenville, Texas, where he grew up in the 1960s.

“We have a pretty good communication with police leaders,” Lewis said. “We have developed a level of communication that I think other communities don’t have.”

Lewis still has concerns.

“I’m not saying that our city is not without flaws. I’m still afraid. I need to know where my grown children are. The issue of bias and prejudice and racism still exists,” Lewis said.

Fixing Police-Community Relationship

Baines and Frazier say that community involvement is the best way to build relationships.

“Every bit of evidence shows us that when you engage in community-based policing, it endears a level of trust between all communities, especially African-American communities,” Baines said.

Frazier said the department and FPOA often attend local events to meet and engage the community.

“Maintaining the public trust and relationships between the police officers and our community is vitally important. And we really believe that,” Frazier said.

But Frazier said he understands the damage negative incidents can do.

“We try to take one step forward, but then something happens and we end up having to take two or three steps back,” Frazier said.

Pastor Lewis hopes Fresno police will learn from the Floyd death.

“I want our police department here in Fresno to use this as a teaching opportunity, an awakening opportunity,” Lewis said. “We need this kind of awareness to trickle down to the officer riding around in our neighborhoods. We want our neighborhoods to be policed safely.”

Allies Within White Community

Baines hopes the death of George Floyd elicits sympathy from the white community, rather than blame.

“Every bit of evidence shows us that when you engage in community-based policing, it endears a level of trust between all communities, especially African-American communities.” —  Oliver Baines

“There should be a moment of pause for a white person when they see that happen,” Baines said.

Baines said incidents leading up to George’s death, or others in similar police-custody deaths, shouldn’t matter.

“As if any of that justifies killing an unarmed person. It’s ridiculous. I think that’s what white people have to do,” Baines said. “You have to pause in these moments and stop treating them as isolated incidents and realize there’s a pattern of behavior that exists with law enforcement against African-Americans in this country.”

Frazier said that he is sensitive to perspectives from communities of color that differ from his own experience.

“I’m a white male and I’m not an African-American person living through their spectrum. So it’s harder for me to obviously see what they’re seeing. We’re seeing something different and it’s just for that alone, we need to be more diligent and trying to see what they’re seeing and try and sympathize with what’s going,” Frazier said.

Fresno Chief Troubled by Minneapolis Incident

Asked for a comment, Fresno Police Chief Andrew Hall deferred to his Wednesday Facebook post criticizing the actions of Minneapolis police.

“I am troubled by what I saw and feel compelled to speak out,” Hall wrote. “This officer’s actions and those officers that stood by and watched the death of George Floyd, violated the oath of the more than 800,000 men and women who dedicate their lives to serve their communities. I am angry over the actions of these officers and they should be held accountable. The behavior demonstrated by the Minneapolis officers erodes the trust of our profession.

“I am saddened over the loss of George Floyd and I pray that God will comfort not only his family and friends, but that God will continue to provide leadership and guidance to Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo. The actions of these officers should not and cannot diminish the relationship we have with each other.”

Sunday Protest Scheduled

Another protest and march is scheduled for Sunday, May 31, at City Hall starting at 2 p.m.

This story has been updated with additional coverage of Friday’s vigil.

DON'T MISS

House to Send Mayorkas Impeachment Articles to the Senate, Forcing a Trial

DON'T MISS

Parker Wins MLB Debut as Nationals Beat Dodgers on Jackie Robinson Day

DON'T MISS

Facing a Republican Revolt, House Speaker Johnson Pushes Ahead on US Aid for Ukraine

DON'T MISS

Giants Rally With 3 Runs in 7th to Beat NL-Worst Marlins

DON'T MISS

Ken Holtzman, MLB’s Winningest Jewish Pitcher Who Won 3 World Series With A’s, Dies at 78

DON'T MISS

Ex-Marine Gets 9 Years in Prison for Firebombing California Planned Parenthood Clinic

DON'T MISS

Fresno Coin Gallery Owner Reveals Why Gold & Silver Are Hot Investments

DON'T MISS

A Fresno Edition of Monopoly? That’s Capitalism at Work, Baby!

DON'T MISS

California Officials Sue Huntington Beach Over Voter ID Law Passed at Polls

DON'T MISS

Indiana Fever Receives No. 1 Overall Draft Pick Caitlin Clark

UP NEXT

Justice Thomas Misses Supreme Court Session Monday With No Explanation

UP NEXT

‘Civil War’ Declares Victory at the Box Office, Toppling ‘Godzilla X Kong’

UP NEXT

Why Tortillas Sold in California May Be Forced to Add a New Ingredient

UP NEXT

Costco Tries Again at City Council for Big NW Fresno Move

UP NEXT

Scheffler Turns the Masters Into Another Sunday Yawner With a Dominating Win

UP NEXT

Vegas, US Tour and More Signings: Wrexham Has Plenty of Fun and Work Ahead After Latest Promotion

UP NEXT

NBA Play-in Game Preview: West Games on Tuesday, East Games on Wednesday, Eliminations on Friday

UP NEXT

Career Technical Ed, Pre-K Could Be Hardest Hit in Budget Cuts

UP NEXT

Dr. Green Thumb’s Is Open. Sweet Flower Debuts Saturday in Fresno Cannabis Rollout.

UP NEXT

Reacher Star Alan Ritchson Calls Donald Trump a ‘Rapist’

David Taub,
Senior Reporter
Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email

Giants Rally With 3 Runs in 7th to Beat NL-Worst Marlins

26 mins ago

Ken Holtzman, MLB’s Winningest Jewish Pitcher Who Won 3 World Series With A’s, Dies at 78

1 hour ago

Ex-Marine Gets 9 Years in Prison for Firebombing California Planned Parenthood Clinic

2 hours ago

Fresno Coin Gallery Owner Reveals Why Gold & Silver Are Hot Investments

3 hours ago

A Fresno Edition of Monopoly? That’s Capitalism at Work, Baby!

17 hours ago

California Officials Sue Huntington Beach Over Voter ID Law Passed at Polls

18 hours ago

Indiana Fever Receives No. 1 Overall Draft Pick Caitlin Clark

18 hours ago

Which Fresno Restaurants Are Best? The Pros Picked These Places.

19 hours ago

Trump’s Historic Hush-Money Trial Gets Underway; 1st Day Ends Without Any Jurors Being Picked

19 hours ago

Fresno-Madera United Way Launches National Search for New CEO

Local /

20 hours ago

House to Send Mayorkas Impeachment Articles to the Senate, Forcing a Trial

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Mike Johnson is sending impeachment charges against Alejandro Mayorkas to the Senate on Tuesday, forcing senators...

7 mins ago

7 mins ago

House to Send Mayorkas Impeachment Articles to the Senate, Forcing a Trial

17 mins ago

Parker Wins MLB Debut as Nationals Beat Dodgers on Jackie Robinson Day

20 mins ago

Facing a Republican Revolt, House Speaker Johnson Pushes Ahead on US Aid for Ukraine

26 mins ago

Giants Rally With 3 Runs in 7th to Beat NL-Worst Marlins

1 hour ago

Ken Holtzman, MLB’s Winningest Jewish Pitcher Who Won 3 World Series With A’s, Dies at 78

2 hours ago

Ex-Marine Gets 9 Years in Prison for Firebombing California Planned Parenthood Clinic

3 hours ago

Fresno Coin Gallery Owner Reveals Why Gold & Silver Are Hot Investments

Fresno Monopoly Edition
17 hours ago

A Fresno Edition of Monopoly? That’s Capitalism at Work, Baby!

MENU

CONNECT WITH US

Search

Send this to a friend