Free Speech Rally in Mendocino County

This might be a little off subject for this blog but then again, maybe not. It’s all about how my wife and I attended a rally for free speech right here in Mendocino County, Monday morning.

I was going to start this post by saying that nothing ever happens here in Mendocino. I realized that that isn’t exactly true. There are a few stories we wish had never happened. We made nationwide news in 2011 when a mentally ill young man shot and killed my friend Matt Coleman and former Fort Bragg Mayor Jere Melo. This last year we had a well known and loved Mendocino County Sheriff Deputy killed by a crazed fugitive from Oregon. This last event ties, somewhat, into this story. This story went, amazingly, worldwide.

Last week I was just sitting at home going through my Facebook news feed when I noticed this Mendocino Beacon Facebook page.

Cards coach makes statement about MHS teams being removed from Holiday Classic basketball tournament to be hosted by Fort Bragg on Dec. 29

The Associated Press has approached one coach about why “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts worn last week by Cardinal players have sparked controversy

According to Mendocino High Varsity Girls Basketball Coach Caedyn Feehan, regarding the removal of both the boys and girls teams from the Holiday Classic being held at FBHS:

“I can officially say we are saddened by not participating in this tournament even after the players who wanted to play agreed to not wear their shirts. The boys had agreed to not wear the shirts and were still uninvited due to the controversy involved. “

A day or so later there was this statement.

Mendocino High School Athletic Director Noah Gold regarding the Vern Piver Holiday Classic basketball tournament at FBHS on Dec. 29:

“The boys team has been re-invited from Fort Bragg administration. They will play under certain conditions of not wearing the shirts. That we will adhere to.”

“The girls team was not willing to adhere, so they will not be playing.”

Is there anyone reading this that doesn’t know what the words, “I Can’t Breathe” means? If you don’t, then you must be wondering what all the fuss is about. It turns out that there are adults in Mendocino County that don’t know what they mean and young high school students that do. The death of Eric Garner for the horrendous crime of allegedly selling “loosies”–single cigarettes, caused worldwide attention because it was videotaped. The story was all over the media. I can’t breathe were his last words. Professional athletes started to wear the words on their shirts. The Mendocino High School’s boys and girls varsity basketball teams started wearing them.

It was when I came upon this Guardian article that I realized that the Mendocino “I Can’t Breathe” story was taking off. Never underestimate an Associated Press report.

A high school basketball tournament on the Northern California coast has become the latest flashpoint in nationwide protests over police killings of unarmed black men.

The boys and girls varsity basketball teams from Mendocino High School were disinvited from a tournament that starts on Monday at nearby Fort Bragg High, because of concerns players would wear T-shirts with the words “I Can’t Breathe” printed on them while warming up.

Brian Triplett, the athletic director at Fort Bragg High, did not return a call and email seeking comment. Principal Rebecca Walker issued a written statement on Friday saying school administrators respected the Mendocino teams “for paying attention to what is going on in the world around them” and that the T-shirts were being prohibited as a security precaution.

Mendocino varsity teams first wore the “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts before a game with Fort Bragg on 16 December, according to the girls coach, Caedyn Feehan. The girls also wore them before games at two other tournaments and didn’t receive any blowback, Feehan said.

“I didn’t even know what it meant. I thought it was a joke about how I had conditioned them so hard,” Feehan said. “None of the administrators knew what it was or that any of them were doing it in advance. This was entirely for their cause that they had strong feelings about.”

The story was picked up by Fox News, The New York Times, USA Today, Sports Illustrated online, Time Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Forbes, Al Jazeera, The Nation Magazine, and many more. The Mendocino County Deputy Sheriff’s Association printed on their Facebook page.

Some of our members were recently informed that students from a Mendocino Coast School wore shirts before a school basketball game with, “I can’t breathe”. This was very discouraging and disrespectful in our eyes. Let us not forget so soon that Deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino recently lost his life trying to protect our citizens! He went into a situation that most people want to run from. So no matter your opinion of law enforcement, know we will ALWAYS be there to help you.

Members of the basketball team responded on the Mendocino Beacon Facebook page. See the December 27th entry.

To the Mendocino County Deputy Sheriffs Association and all concerned citizens,

It has come to our attention that members of our local law enforcement felt “discouraged and disrespected” by our participation in a non-violent national protest. We have worn shirts during the warm-up at recent basketball games that say “I Can’t Breathe”.

Although the Association did not contact us directly, the statements made on their Facebook page regarding the subject state that they interpreted our shirts as a protest to our local Sheriffs. Some of us and many of our parents personally knew Deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino. He was the best example of a law enforcement officer who knew how to calm down tense situations peacefully. Our protest has nothing to do with exemplary officers like Deputy Del Fiorentino.

We are saddened that the message we are trying to send has been misconstrued, but understand that by choosing to wear our shirts we were getting involved in a very real and controversial issue.

I told my wife about what was going on and she started to get interested. She learned that a rally for the girls basketball team was going to happen Monday morning in front of the Fort Bragg High School before the tournament started. She encouraged us to attend. The pictures were taken by her. That’s me at the very top in the second picture.

The rally was covered by a few representives of the news media. A KIEM (Eureka channel 3) news team was there and filmed the event. Our local Congreeman Jared Huffman indicated his support for the team. After talking to the teams first amendment lawyer the school district backed down and allow the teams to wear their shirts and play but it was too late for the girls team to play because their slot in the tournament had been taken by another team.

This is to advise you that the district will not prohibit spectators from attending the Fort Bragg USD basketball tournament because they may be wearing a T-shirt that may have an expressive message on it.

I’m informed that there was at least one tournament game this morning; spectators were allowed into that game even if they were wearing such T-shirts.

Similarly, the district will not prohibit a student athlete participating in this tournament from wearing an expressive T-shirt during warm-ups.

However, student athletes must wear their designated uniforms during the game.

So free speech wins out as it should. People have to standup for their rights. People should know what is happening in this world. There are all kinds of injustice in this world, racial inequality, income inequality, gender inequality are just a few. The planet is being destroyed because of overconsumption and greed. There are many shirts and posters out there. People are taking stands. I have chosen to put the spotlight on climate change but it is just one of many issues. It’s hard to get other people’s attention. We are all thinking the same thing.

Photo by: Tamara Rodriguez Reichberg






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s