Hundreds gathered in downtown Turlock Friday night for a candlelight vigil honoring George Floyd and other victims of police brutality. The peaceful event saw community members share poetry, personal experiences and prayer in a night that starkly contrasted some scenes of protest playing out across the nation.
Organized by the Turlock Black Lives Matter Movement, whispers on social media of riots and looting were put to rest as the crowd slowly marched from Central Park to Turlock’s City Hall, candles in hand. There were plenty of police escorts along the way blocking traffic for the group as they walked through town — a result of collaboration between Turlock BLM and the Turlock Police Department.
According to Turlock Police Chief Nino Amirfar, the two groups have been in close conversation during recent protests and worked together to ensure Friday’s event went off without a hitch.
“I’ve had the opportunity to get to know all of the people involved in Black Lives Matter here in Turlock and they have extremely valid concerns. Actually, all the African Americans and those of color have a valid concern in regard to police incidents where there was brutality,” Amirfar said. “They are no different than anyone of us. They fear for their children, they fear for themselves. You should be able to walk outside wearing a hoodie without worrying about whether something’s going to happen to you or not.”
Speakers in Central Park included community members sharing spoken word, local civil rights leaders and professors giving passionate speeches and members of Turlock BLM disclosing their own experiences. Stanislaus State alumna Mi’Shaye Venerable fought through tears to share the story of her late father, Donald Venerable, who was shot and killed by police in 2001 in Sacramento. After marching to City Hall, photographs of black victims of police brutality were placed on the exterior of the building and attendees wrote what the movement means to them on large sheets of paper.
Turlock resident Taylor Evans said it was moving to see so many people show up for the vigil.
“Growing up here, I feel like there aren’t that many things that spotlight other cultures. I feel like this is something we’ve never seen take place in Turlock, so it’s beautiful to see all of these people come together for this,” Evans said. “When (Floyd) died, it hit home for a lot of us who have either been in those situations or have had family and friends who have been in that situation. It’s about being aware of people’s situations and not just turning a blind eye to people’s cries and what they have to say…It’s beautiful to know that as a minority in the Central Valley I’m not alone. Even dealing with all of the racism I’ve dealt with my whole life, it’s nice to know there are people out there who actually do care.”
Facebook posts spreading rumors of protesters being bused into town were quickly put to rest by TPD. Chief Amirfar said he had help from the Federal Bureau of Investigation in order to lay hearsay to rest. The police perimeter around the vigil was not only to make sure no one in Central Park caused any trouble, but to also keep anyone from antagonizing the group.
“Social media is good because it’s social, but it’s being used to spread propaganda. Unfortunately, there’s still hate out there and there are individuals that utilize it to scare people, and some use it to shed a bad light on the organizations that are trying to protest peacefully,” Amirfar said.
While none of the downtown core businesses boarded up their windows, as has been seen in other towns, some business owners sat outside their storefronts in lawn chairs as the vigil dispersed. There was no violence or confrontation during the nearly two-hour event, however, the owner of Xhale Hookah Lounge was contacted by police for brandishing a rifle in front of the business.
Stanislaus State alum Alex Walker shared a quote with the crowd during the vigil, stating that “the worst thing the human race can say is ‘We’ve always done things this way.’”
“Why do you have to create an organization or movement for something that should already be understood?” he asked the crowd. “And I know some people may not like it and that’s fine, but burning, fighting…that ain’t the way, chief. There are too many lives that have been lost.
“That doesn’t mean all cops are bad. That doesn’t mean white people are bad…but the fact is just that, a fact. If you don’t like it, change it.”