Pastor Paul Lawrence Binion II delivers a unique, calming, and reassuring gospel when he speaks.
“God has a sense of humor,” Binion said during a Tuesday morning interview via Zoom. “He brings me to Fresno and then he puts in my life all these white people who really love me.”
“God used them to change my heart,” the 71-year-old Binion says. He now sees his church as a means to reach out across both denominational and racial lines.
“My agenda is to ensure that justice is served,” Binion says.
How the George Floyd Case Is Different
Binion says the George Floyd case brings attention to racial issues he’s worked to solve his entire life.
“People get excited, and we see these kinds of things take place, but then it dies down and it goes away,” says Binion.
But he says there is something different about Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
“It seems to me, there are a group of young people now who don’t want to grow up and have the kind of lives and put up with the kinds of things that we have,” says Binion. “I think this group of young people who just don’t want justice to be talked about, but they want justice to be a reality. They want equity to be a reality. They want fairness to be a reality.”
Binion says many Americans today have the kind of courage he hasn’t seen in his lifetime.
The pastor has been impressed by seeing police officers join kneeling protesters and then marching lockstep together.
“This morning I saw the police chief of St. Louis weeping,” Binion says, pausing to collect himself. “When have you seen a police chief weep?”
Binion sees progress, but still says it’s not at the level it should be: “The momentum, of course, is going to die down because of people. People get amnesia, they get excited for the moment.”
Looters Are Criminals
“Those people that are looting, they’re criminals,” Binion says. “Don’t tell me you’re concerned about equity when you’re breaking into stores and stealing jewelry.
“I don’t approve of destroying property. I don’t approve of lawlessness.”
Binion says he’s in regular touch with local politicians like Rep. Jim Costa, city councilmember Miguel Arias, school board members, and police officials in his community.
And, he acknowledges the past friction between the African American community and incoming Mayor Jerry Dyer. But that icy relationship is thawing, Binion says.
Dyer has “already reached out,” says Binion. “We’re convening meetings with African Americans and also other social justice groups in town.”
Binion says he’s going to work with Dyer to facilitate communication: “I trust he’ll not only hear us out but take our concerns seriously and bring equity to the city of Fresno.”
What does Binion see as one of the mayor-elect’s biggest challenges?
“Jerry Dyer has to switch hats. He has to realize he’s no longer the police chief and become a visionary and a leader for our city. I’ll be one of those in his ear reminding him, OK, what’s going to change?”
Fresno Unified Is Failing Black Students
“We’re still dealing with a school system that’s not serving African American children to the level it should,” Binion says of Fresno Unified School District. “Things are getting better, but they’re not at a level where they should be.”
He cited district statistics showing that African American children continue to lag well behind their peers.
“To have schools on the north part of town that have equipment and facilities and technology, and the schools on the south part of town to be lacking, that has to stop,” Binion says.