In one of the largest demonstrations in Hanford in a quarter century, a racially mixed crowd Saturday honoring George Floyd exhorted the establishment to get its collective knee off the necks of African Americans so they can receive equal treatment under the law.
“America has had its knee on our neck since we got here,” said Joshua Slack, 24, of Lemoore.
In a fiery speech to a crowd estimated at 400-500 people, Slack said America’s failing education system is a knee on the neck as is Jim Crow and the Ferguson shootings. The crowd applauded loudly and yelled in approval.
“Imagine,” he said “how peaceful (it would) be without knee on the neck.”
Slack, who is studying drama in Los Angeles, said oppression of African Americans is part of the design of capitalism.
While he spoke members of the local political establishment listened near the steps of the auditorium. Mayor John Draxler and Councilman Martin Devine together with Police Chief Parker Sever watched and listened.
Judging by his later remarks, Sever clearly felt the force of the speakers’ messages. Draxler and Devine did not speak.
Pastor Charles Williams offered a prayer including the phrase, “forgive us (for) not being equal. All men are not treat(ed) equal.”
“We are not here to attack police officials,” Williams said. “(We’re) here to honor the memory of George Floyd.”
Floyd’s Memorial Day death while in the custody of Minneapolis Police sparked 650 protests June 6 in cities across the United States. Many other protests, sometimes marked by property destruction and looting, occurred just after Floyd died. The protests extended to foreign capitals.
Early in Hanford’s demonstration Williams led a chorus of audience members in clapping and shouting George Floyd’s name.
Another speaker, Paula Massey of Women with Visions Unlimited, said since January 1, 2009 30 unarmed black men have been killed by police in the United States.
She encouraged the audience to vote during this election year.
“Black people need to be seen,” she said. “How can we change when we’re not at the table. This is our time. We enact change. Let’s make a change.”
“(With) all the people here today, we have a lot of work to do,” Sever said “it’s important to have an honest conversation, to listen to each other and come to conclusions.”
He said he witnessed many horrible things during his career as a police officer but “what has kept my sanity in our profession is our community.”
Sever, who was wearing his uniform, said when he saw the Memorial Day video of the police officer with his knee on Floyd’s neck Sever said, “Oh no. Not again! What they did (was) not called for. We don’t train like that.”
Sever then read a letter he received from an 11-year-old girl who said she hopes nothing like that happens in Hanford.
Sever closed and said the community “shouldn’t be separated in camps” and needs to work together. The audience responded with applause and yells.
The protest was organized by Ashley Neeley and Trey Gamble. She said organizers received $1,600 in donations, food and water plus many volunteer hours over a five-day period.
At 3:03 pm, about an hour after it started, the event ended with columns of hundreds of people marching with signs in an emotionally moving procession flowing out of the Civic Auditorium grassy area and on to Douty Street toward Hanford City Hall. Four sheriff’s deputies on horses blocked access to East 9th Street and Douty Street.
People were chanting George Floyd’s name. Some of the signs read: “Justice for George Floyd” “No lives until black lives matter” and “The abuse of justice is death to society.”