FRESNO, California (KGPE) – Fresno’s Mayor Jerry Dyer and Chief of Police Paco Balderrama are stamping down on demonstrations at the Tower Theatre after a protest on Sunday turned violent.
“Their attire consisted of them wearing ballistic vests, as well as tactical vests. They had exposed hunting knives on their sides in sheaths… Many of them also had, in their possession, tear gas or mace,” said Mayor Dyer, describing the weapons allegedly carried by members of the Proud Boys last Sunday.
Two people were arrested after another last Sunday’s protest, and city leaders say it is agitators from outside of Fresno causing tensions to rise.
“The vast majority of these individuals, if not all of them, are not even from the city of Fresno, yet they come into our community, and they try to create a divide,” Dyer said.
30 officers were present at the protest on April 11, and authorities predict there were roughly 100 protestors, with a record number of 40 to 60 members of the Proud Boys group.
“Last week, the situation was less than ideal,” Chief Balderrama said.
Of the two arrests made, one was a man named Marcus Kelly, who was taken into custody after an altercation. They later discovered Kelly was an ex-felon and was carrying pepper spray. Although he did not claim affiliation to either side, he was dressed in Proud Boys gear.
“They had the wardrobe; they were with the group. So, in my mind, they are a part of that organization”
Chief Balderrama says he is formulating a plan that will increase the level of safety for people involved, including bike officers as escorts and barricades to separate the groups.
“Obviously, they have their constitutional rights to protest and assemble, but they have to still do it within the law. It is our job to keep people safe and to address the concerns of the community. So, that’s what we’re going to do, and we’re going to do that this Sunday,” he said.
The protests began back in January when Adventure Church announced its intent to purchase the Tower Theatre.
Mayor Dyer said he will be at the next protest, along with Chief Balderrama and members of the council to make sure things do not escalate.
Chief Balderrama said he is unsure whether Marcus Kelly is still in jail.