How ‘White Lives Matter’ protests over a police shooting were misunderstood

The racially charged demonstrations over Dylan Nobles death sparked outrage online but friends of the unarmed teen shot by police say they only want justice

Brandon Lindlahr laid down on the ground by a Chevron gas station in Fresno, California, and fell asleep on top of the bloodstained pavement where police fatally shot his unarmed friend.

It was Monday night, two days after the 18-year-olds friend, Dylan Noble, was killed by police during a traffic stop.

Since Nobles death on Saturday afternoon, Lindlahr and dozens of other friends have spent their nights hanging out by a Fast N Esy convenience store and gas station where theyve set up a memorial of candles, American flags, and empty Coors Light cans.

Lindlahr said they also poured beers on top of the blood-soaked ground in hopes of washing away the painful reminder of Nobles violent death. A dark blotch remains where the young man fell.

Well be here every night until we get our justice, he said.

Noble, 19, is one of more than 500 people who have been killed by US law enforcement in 2016. His is one of the few cases to receive international attention but not for the reasons that police killings of unarmed adolescents typically make headlines.

In a standoff with Fresno officers at an emotional vigil Sunday night, friends of Noble, who was white, and other critics of the police department took to the streets, some carrying a Confederate flag and others promoting a White Lives Matter sign.

The message was an appropriation of Black Lives Matter, the civil rights movement that emerged in response to the killings of African Americans, and the Fresno protest was swiftly mocked as racist and offensive on social media and in news reports.

But in the sweltering heat of this suburban city in the Central Valley of California, 200 miles south-east of San Francisco, Nobles friends say the mainstream media and others deriding their protests have deeply misunderstood their way of life and message.

I still dont believe it

The intense controversy over the White Lives Matter statement has distracted from the serious questions surrounding the circumstances of Nobles killing.

Fresno police say that at 3.20pm on Saturday, officers were investigating reports of a man walking in the area with a rifle when they spotted Nobles pickup truck speeding by. After Noble pulled over at the Chevron gas station, he refused to show his hands to the officers as he exited, police said in a statement.

The driver then turned towards officers with one hand concealed behind his back, and told officers he hated his life.


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Brandon Lindlahr, left, and Keenan Passmore at a memorial for Dylan Noble. Photograph: Sam Levin for the Guardian

According to the polices version of the incident, the officers believed Noble was armed and fired four shots at him when he allegedly advanced toward them with his hand behind his back.

It turned out that Noble did not have a weapon on him or in his vehicle, police chief Jerry Dyer said in an interview. Dyer, however, insisted that the two officers, now on administrative leave, acted appropriately.

It was very apparent this individual did everything he could possibly do to cause the officers to believe he did, in fact, have a firearm.

The man with the riflehas not been found, Dyer added.

I was speechless, said David Merkord, 19, who got a call from a friend who passed by the scene and saw that both of the doors to Nobles truck were open and police were putting a sheet over his body. Why would this happen to such a good guy?

Nobles loved ones were infuriated that a deputy chief suggested that there was something else in his life going on that caused him to want to be shot. Even if Noble was behaving erratically or having a mental health crisis which his loved ones said would be out of character they couldnt understand why police would shoot to kill.

I still dont believe it. Hes always been so positive, and Ive never seen him upset, said Jessica Montag, Nobles 29-year-old cousin and a local teacher. Hes just a kid. The police have twisted this to make them seem as guiltless as possible.

He was a happy, happy guy, said Darren Noble, Dylans father.

Friends described Nobles infectious smile and said he stood out among his peers in the way that he was genuinely friendly to everyone he met. They said he was also in a great place in his life he had a construction job, a steady girlfriend, and a passion for music and DJing.

On Sunday evening, they organized a vigil for Noble at the gas station, some doing donuts and burnouts with their cars driving in circles and spinning their wheels to commemorate activities Noble loved. They said they wanted to make some noise, celebrate Nobles life, and pressure the department to release body-camera footage.

They had no idea quite how much of an impact their protest would have.

Candles at a memorial for Dylan Noble. Photograph: Sam Levin for the Guardian

All lives matter

Its unclear who put up a White Lives Matter sign, but Nobles friends said the message was simple.

Dylans life mattered, and yes, hes white, Lindlahr said. Everyone says black lives matter, and they do, but as soon as you say white lives matter, its racist?

Lindlahrsgirlfriend Allie Seibert, standing where Noble was killed, chimed in: The media took a life lost andturned it into a Black Lives Matter issue. This wasnt about white lives matter. Its that all lives matter.

Around the US, politicians, including some progressive figures, have been known to stumble when discussing the new civil rights movement.

Several have been condemned for clumsy references to all lives matter, which some say is a tone-deaf response to a movement shedding light on the disproportionate impact of police brutality on black Americans.

All lives matter has also been adopted by some pro-police demonstrators, in an attempt to undermine the Black Lives Matter movement.

But among Nobles friends in Fresno, the slogan has less to do with the semantics of identity politics. For them, white lives matter was a way to acknowledge that Nobles death deserves the same kind of outrage the public has shown in the wake of questionable police killings of young black men in major US cities.

I guarantee if an African American guy got shot, it wouldve blown up, Merkord said. There definitely wouldve been a bigger crowd.

The hundreds of deaths of black men at the hands of the police, many of which pass without protest, would suggest otherwise.

However, Nobles friends believe that their appropriation of the black lives matter slogan, however controversial, has brought attention to his death.

Justin Horton, 19, said the death would have gone unnoticed without their high-profile protest. It wouldve been another Fresno shooting that Jerry Dyer covered up, he said.


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A vigil for Dylan Noble. Photograph: Sam Levin for the Guardian

They insisted the Confederate flag, which many in the US deem to be a racist symbol associated with slavery, is a nod to their cultural heritage and lifestyle.

The neighboring cities of Fresno and Clovis, where Nobles family and friends live, are predominantly white and Latino in a county where nearly half of the acreage is farmland. Clovis is home to a popular rodeo. Several of Nobles friends said they work in construction or are unemployed.

You have to be from Clovis to understand it, said Horton, as he and other friends gathered at nearby Millerton Lake on a scorching hot afternoon on Tuesday, cooling off from the 103-degree temperatures.

The Confederate flag at the Sunday protest had a cowboy on it, Horton pointed out.

Theres a lot of people who see it as the rebel flag. We just like to be outside and outdoors, Horton added. Were not trying to be white supremacists.

A history of excessive force

Since video of the protest spread online, commentators have pointed out that police exercised restraint in response toWhite Lives Matter activists a sharp contrast to those Black Lives Matter protests that have ended in teargas and arrests.

One Fresno officer even gave a protester his loudspeaker.

We do everything we can to deescalate the situation, Dyer said.

But in Fresno, young residents and friends of Noble said the police department does not deserve accolades for its day-to-day treatment of citizens. On the contrary, many hanging out by Nobles memorial shared stories of unwarranted harassment and unnecessarily aggressive treatment by officers similar complaints to those that emerged in the predominantly black city of Ferguson, Missouri, following the 2014 fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

Lindlahr said he has had confrontations with police and was so enraged when they showed up at the vigil, that his friends had to hold him back.


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Writing at a memorial for Dylan Noble. Photograph: Sam Levin for the Guardian

I wanted to charge them, he said.

Merkord, too, said he has had run-ins with police, and that the killing of Noble was part of a broader problem of brutality.

Whats the biggest gang? Its the police force.

The police department has seen a wave of excessive-force lawsuits in recent years, and disturbing footage of a 2015 shooting showed officers firing at an unarmed mentally ill man who they allegedly thought was <a href=”” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>reaching for a gun.

If they dont shoot somebody, theyre going to do something extremely violent that they dont need to do, said Gavin Paull, 20.

Asked about these criticisms, Dyer blamed anti-police views that he said have become pervasive across the country in recent years.

Ever since the incident in Ferguson, law enforcement has been viewed in a more negative way.

For his part, Lindlahr said he and his friends will continue to hang out at the gas station until they get answers.

He was such a good guy that we just have to be out here, he said.

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