Community members gathered outside Fresno City Hall Tuesday night, just hours after the verdict was read in the Derek Chauvin trial. Chauvin was found guilty on all three counts: second degree murder, third degree murder and second degree manslaughter.
A painted portrait of George Floyd was placed at the center of the gathering, organized by the Fresno State NAACP chapter.
Pieces of paper attached to the portrait fluttered in the wind. They listed the names of those killed in the U.S. by police violence.
Grisanti Valencia of Youth Organize California used a bullhorn to lead the crowd in a healing ritual.
“Take one deep breath in and exhale,” she instructed. She said it’s important to process this moment in history.
“I think a lot of us are feeling so many emotions,” she said. “I think there’s anger, there’s sadness, there’s joy and I think all these emotions co-exist together.”
Fresno State NAACP chapter president, D’Aungillique Jackson said it’s vital to gather together on a day like this.
“This last year for all of us has been extremely hard. And I can be real and say that I just needed to see my community members’ faces, give you all kind of like, a socially distanced virtual hug if you will,” she said.
Jackson called on a diverse group of community activists to voice their reaction to the verdict and what it means for Fresno. Gloria Hernandez said it was an emotional release.
“I cried when I got home and I heard the verdict. I cried a sense of relief, a sense of justice,” she said.
Both Hernandez and Jackson are members of the Fresno Commission for Police Reform.
A meeting planned the same day was rescheduled following the verdict. The commission was going to discuss a list of recommendations to implement within the police department. Hernandez made a request to the crowd before her.
“But I’m asking you to call your mayor and ask him to abide by the police reform commission recommendations. I ask the city council to pay attention to what we did,” she said.
The speakers say the George Floyd case opened an important conversation with law enforcement.
It was a point made earlier in the day, when a group of Fresno’s religious leaders stood with city leaders at Courthouse Park in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial. They called for the community’s peaceful approach to the verdict.
“When these kinds of things happen across our nation, it causes great pain in our community,” said Pastor B.T. Lewis, leader of the African American Clergy Caucus.
Before the verdict was read, he spoke about living with the fear that his children could one day be added to the list of names of those killed in police violence.
“We want to do everything within our power to ensure that our children get home safely everyday. And I know everybody doesn't have that concern, but I certainly do,” he said.
Lewis said in Fresno, the key has been building relationships in the community, especially with law enforcement.
“For years, we have tried to work with our justice leaders in Fresno to try to prevent as much as possible the kind of things that are happening in other cities from happening in our city. We want to create not only a place of protest, protest is great. But we also want to make sure that we encourage healing in our city,” he said.
It was healing that was on full display at the gathering in front of Fresno City Hall.
“Because, understand that this verdict that we got today was not a national win. That verdict that we got today was not a win for the city of Fresno. That verdict we got today was a win for the Floyd family and we’re celebrating that for them, with them,” D’Aungillique Jackson told the crowd standing before her.
Jackson emphasized the work is really just beginning for racial justice. Part of that work was last year’s peaceful Black Lives Matter march, after the murder of George Floyd.
“Our one year anniversary for the historic march that we led on May 31, 2020 is coming up and we will be doing an anniversary march,” she said.
The march attracted more than 3,000 people. Jackson hopes to make the march even bigger this year.
“That date will fall on Memorial Day this year, and that meaning to me and the thing that it symbolizes is perfect. We have lost so many soldiers,” she said.
It’s why the Fresno Commission for Police Reform is pushing for change. On Tuesday next week, they meet with city leaders to talk more about which recommendations are being implemented.