Protests come to Chico

Black suspects’ deaths at the hands of white police officers garner local attention

From left to right: Dalene Alley, Janiel Hardman and Donnell Davidson protest the high-profile deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Mandi Ranalla (inset) scheduled a rally for the same cause, slated for the City Plaza on Dec. 13.

From left to right: Dalene Alley, Janiel Hardman and Donnell Davidson protest the high-profile deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Mandi Ranalla (inset) scheduled a rally for the same cause, slated for the City Plaza on Dec. 13.

Donnell Davidson was watching television recently and was inspired to get off his couch and into the streets with signs. He’d been viewing the recent national news coverage concerning two grand juries—one in Missouri and one in New York—to indict white officers in the deaths of black suspects. When he saw how citizens of other cities had rallied together behind the two victims, he decided he had to do something, too.

“I got inspired about how things are going and then just seeing the reaction of the people,” he said. “So I just … started to recruit people and ask them to help pass the word.”

Davidson, who moved to Chico 12 years ago from Salt Lake City, is behind the small contingent of protesters who’ve carried signs downtown in recent weeks, receiving car-horn beeps from supporters and middle-finger flip-offs from detractors.

But while protests over the high-profile deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York City have turned violent in many U.S. cities, the reaction in Chico has been low-key. Brown was shot by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson and Garner died after he was placed in a chokehold by New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo.

Davidson said the cases, particularly Garner’s, are troubling.

“It just shows the lack of care for people of color,” he said. “I think the background story is more of what people care about than the crime itself.”

Janiel Hardman, standing alongside Davidson recently with a sign in his hand, said he, too, felt a need to make a public statement.

“We’re not violent,” he said, “but we’re not being shy, either.”

Davidson said they’ve received positive responses from pedestrians.

“We’ve had a few people come up and just grab signs and say, ‘I’m inspired by what you are doing,’” he said. “It’s just about awareness. I want people to know that we are conscious of it and we want change and we are willing to do something.”

In addition to the small City Plaza protests, there are plans for a march along The Esplanade into downtown starting at 1 p.m. Saturday (Dec. 13), followed by a protest in the plaza at 4:30 p.m. Like Davidson’s efforts, both events are being promoted via social networking; as of Wednesday morning (Dec. 10), 134 people had posted that they would take part in the march and another 304 said they would attend the rally downtown.

Like Davidson and Hardman, Chicoan Theodore Ulsh also believes it is time for a local wakeup call. He is a co-organizer of the Dec. 13 march, which he said was triggered by the fates of Brown and Garner as well as 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot and killed by police in Cleveland last month while carrying an air pistol.

Ulsh, 20, is a graphic designer who said he is of Indian descent and is a member of the LGBTQ community. He said via email that he formed the march as a “much-needed response from everyone in Chico, and all across America, to the rampant racism and police brutality that exists in America.”

These things aren’t just happening in places like Ferguson, he said.

“Police brutality and racism are issues that people of color—especially the black community—face right here in Chico every day,” he said. “And that system can be brought down through awareness and accountability for our police force here in Chico. We are hoping to shut down The Esplanade with the march to make Chico realize that this change must happen.”

He emphasized, however, that the march would be peaceful. On the Event’s Facebook page, he writes: “Please do not start any violence or disruption to the businesses/homes we will be passing.”

Davidson and Ulsh aren’t the only locals inspired to act by the recent events. Chicoan Mandi Ranalla, who is behind the protest slated for later in the day Saturday, said she, too, was motivated by what she saw on the television news.

“This is the first time I’ve ever done something like this,” said Ranalla, 19, who moved to Chico from Lake Tahoe with her family 10 years ago. “The Ferguson verdict came out and I was watching the news and just seeing everything that was going on—the anger and the sadness. I was just sitting there so upset that there was nothing I could do, and that the people in Chico couldn’t express their feelings.”

So she started a Facebook page, which has received considerable response.

“I only invited about 60 of my friends and it just took off from there,” she said.

That number jumped into the hundreds a few days later. The city has approved a permit to allow the gathering in the park.

“In my junior year of high school I was kind of taught that, despite what is said about the younger generation, we still have a voice,” she said. “We kind of have an obligation to speak up.”

At one point, Ranalla posted on her Rally for Justice Facebook page that she was planning on inviting Chico Police Chief Kirk Trostle to address the park protesters. But that resulted in a backlash of comments by some who said inviting the police was wrong.

“I refuse to participate in a protest to end the violence and racism at the hands of police officers that then provides a platform and microphone for police officers,” said one commenter. “This is inappropriate and naïve.”

Chico Police Officer Peter Durfee, who is head of the Chico Police Officers’ Association, said no matter the circumstances, loss of life is always a tragedy.

“It’s something a police officer has to live with the rest of their life,” he said. “We know this is something we might have to do in our job, which is to protect the general public.”

Durfee said he couldn’t comment on the cases that have sparked a national debate.

“I don’t know the specifics because I wasn’t there,” he said. “Those who want to comment don’t know the facts. Was it justified or not? That is up to a grand jury to decide.”

He said he had spoken with some of the local street protesters, including a woman who told him he was “a pretty nice guy.”

“You know, 95 percent of us are pretty nice guys,” Durfee said.

Street protest organizer Davidson said he does not expect immediate results from the effort.

“Hopefully,” he said, “40 years from now, things will have changed.”