A crowd of approximately 300-350 persons turned out for Sunday’s three-hour protest in Ceres organized by Ceres High School students calling for an end to unnecessary police brutality in the wake of the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The gathering, which started out in Whitmore Park, was peaceful unlike many in larger cities where rioting and looting has taken place. Some Fourth Street businesses a block over weren’t taking chances and boarded up their storefronts in advance of the planned demonstration. After about six speakers addressed the crowd, the placard wielding crowd moved up Third Street, westbound on Whitmore, north on Central Avenue to Hatch Road. They returned at Whitmore Park by way of Moffet Road and briefing stopping in Smyrna Park.
The students who organized the event call themselves “Local Teens for a Change.” They invited a number of impassioned speakers called for an end to aggressive treatment of blacks and other minorities who have died while being arrested.
Police kept an eye on the crowd from a distance while a California Highway Patrol cruiser idled along the frontage road.
At Third and North streets, Jamo Walker, a pro-police African-American resident of Ceres, kept his eye out for trouble. Prior to the event he said a red Chevy rolled by with an occupant who yelled “ F*** the police” and “No justice, no peace.” Sitting nearby was Mike Hertz who voiced his opposition to the violent manner in which demonstrations in other areas have gone down. He said looting stores does little to affect change in remedying race relations between police and minorities.
Malik Lothery, a 2018 graduate of Gregori High School, addressed the crowd from the Whitmore Park gazebo and said he was sickened to watch the treatment of Floyd and that the resulting wave of protests is the most meaningful movement of his life.
“It’s not for nothing, for all we know the next MLK or Malcolm X could be in the crowd right here,” said Lothery.
“We’re going to get in the system and change it ourselves.”
Frank Johnson of the local NAACP chapter, said he was encouraged by what he sees, telling youth “what you have is a weapon stronger than two atomic bombs.”
Rachelle Edmonds, a Ceres High School graduate of 2007, shared that she experienced her first taste of racism in life in Ceres when another classmate used a racial slur against her.
“When that man (Floyd) cried for his mom, if you area mothers and did not feel outraged … and did not feel the pain of every other mother, I just don’t understand why we have to explain ourselves, why we are here, why we keep protesting. Even after a conviction – if there is a conviction – we are not going to stop. My son’s name will not be chanted in another protest. That is not going to happen.”
Samson Gonzalez, a Ceres resident who attends UC Merced, asked: “How could we trust our force now after everything they’ve done? Were they not sworn to protect us? How is killing innocent lives protecting us?”
He went on: “My father once said there’s a fine line that distinguishes a police officer from a criminal. They both kill, but the only difference is that officers have the authority to do so. And I’m not saying all police officers are criminals or are bad. But what I’m trying to say that the bad by far outweigh the good. Not only in the force but in white individuals too.”
Gonzalez called for an end to “selfish acts of vandalism,” saying the cause for justice is pushed back.
Mike Welsh, a Ceres Unified School District trustee, showed up at the rally “to support the Ceres High kids” and was relieved that to see it pulled off peacefully.
“They definitely have a right to protest,” said Welsh.
Councilmembers Mike Kline, Channce Condit and Bret Durossette attended the protest and each praised the peaceful nature of protesters and police at Monday’s council meeting.
City Manager Tom Westbrook said the event was going to be costly for the city budget for the extra manpower and city overtime costs but had no specific figure. Ontel and Rank security companies volunteered their services to the city during the event.
“Today’s protest concluded without any issues,” said Police Chief Rick Collins. “The group from Ceres High School planned and executed their event as they said they would. They kept their word. I respect them for their efforts in keeping the event safe and peaceful. It was clear they were passionate about their message and their movement.”
He also thanked the community to keep the event peaceful. The chief also thanked his department
“for doing a great job under stressful circumstances. The professionalism and performance you displayed today reaffirms my assertion that we have some of the best officers and professional staff in the county. Based on what I have seen over the past week, Stanislaus is comprised of good men and women in all facets of law enforcement who perform exceptionally.”
A protest staged in Oakdale on June 3 ended in some violence and two arrests. Two Oakdale Police officers were injured in a scuffle after a person in a convertible drove up and threw an object at the protesters and a fight ensued. Police then ended the protest, declaring it an unlawful assembly.
A larger protest in Modesto on Saturday, May 30 was mostly peaceful.
Collins condemned the death of Floyd as horrific and said “the very incident that sparked recent protests throughout the nation is unacceptable. Everyone I have spoken to about his death is not okay with the circumstances.”