Story and photos by Erica Marquez
FRESNO– A year ago Gregory Washington, 16, was on a roll as Fresno Police Officer Mike Martin watched from the sidelines. “We had already won four games straight and Mike had been watching us play,” said Washington, who was playing basketball at Victoria Park in west Fresno.
“Mike asked us to come out for the tournament,” Washington explained. One year later Washington’s team, named Underrated, finished in second place in Fresno Police Department’s (FPD) Saturday Night Basketball Tournament, which wrapped up August 15 with a championship night.
Fresno Building Healthy Communities (BHC) and the FPD organized the 3-on-3 basketball tournament that ran throughout the summer. As the sun set in downtown Fresno the sound of basketballs echoed into the evening on Mariposa Mall in front of the police precinct.
Marie Kraft’s son participated in the tournament. “I know that it is very, very easy to be turned the wrong way but there are people out there that are willing to help you,” said Kraft, who credits programs like Saturday Basketball with keeping youth out of trouble.
According to Police Chief Jerry Dyer, that is exactly the goal. “One of our strategies is being able to reach our youth and give them something to do on a Saturday night when there is high likelihood for crime. We do want them to channel their energy in a positive way,” he explained.
In response to youth requests, Chief Dyer said organizers are looking to make the games stretch beyond the summer to become year round tournaments.
According to Officer Mike Martin, a Youth Liaison for his department, FPD and BHC aim to reduce violence and improve the relationship between law enforcement and youth through the games.
“The biggest thing is to probably give the youth a voice in Fresno,” Martin said. “It’s going to take the police department and the community to come together to fix some of the issues we face.”
Adrien Ferguson, 23, who played on The Boys and Men of Color (BMOC) team, said he believes many youth feel profiled by local police because of the neighborhoods they live in or by their ethnicity.
“[By playing in this basketball game] I would like to show that law enforcement are not always the bad people that we make them out to be and we’re not the bad or the delinquent kids that police think we are,” said Ferguson.