Delano children protest local violence on MLK Day

DELANO, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Taking a page from history, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, young children in Delano marched in protest of violence. The kids rallied at Kalibo Park, where a young man was gunned down two months ago. The kids say it's been taken over by gangs.

On Monday, about a dozen young kids turned out at 1 p.m., under the watchful eye of several parents. Neighborhood mom Daisy Lumabao Selsor said the march was for the kids, and they were the ones deciding how it would go. But, she started them out, linking their effort to the slain civil rights leader.

"Today is a day of remembrance," Selsor said. "A remembrance of Martin Luther King, a Godly man who stood up for the right thing, who said 'No' to violence."

The kids took off, circling the park. "Take the park back, say no to violence," the children chanted as they marched.

Violence took the life of 20-year-old Cody Harris in the park in November. A friend with him reported the suspect talked about gangs before opening fire. The family says Harris had nothing to do with gangs.

Harris' father came out to see the kids' protest.

"I appreciate you children," Carl Harris told the kids. He pointed to a large memorial for his son along the park fence. That includes candles, and prayers and comments written on bright-colored stars and crosses. Harris said those mementoes have been up since about Christmas.

Marcher Rodolfo Silva said he was at the rally because he often doesn't feel safe in the park.

"Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don't," he told Eyewitness News. "And the reason for that is there are gangsters. Sometimes there's always gangsters there." Rodolfo said he thinks they're gangsters because of the colors they're wearing, and because they're smoking. He added he feels safer when they're not there, or if parents are in the park.

Neighbor mom Daisy Lumabao Selsor said just before the march started, she had a troubling encounter in the park.

"Some gang people came up to me and they wanted to try to start some problems," she said. Selsor said Delano Police were in area, saw what was happening, and responded. She's grateful for their efforts.

But, Selsor said she also didn't back down.

"You just have to let them know you're not going to be intimidated," she said. "We're here to take this park back." Selsor's not sure if the two young men on Monday had weapons, but the children were afraid they did.

On Monday, a Delano Police spokesman told Eyewitness News the department gets reports of gang activity in Kalibo Park, and those are typically about fighting. The spokesman said Delano PD actively investigates and responds to these calls.

Selsor said a special bench in the park has been set aside as safe area. That's where she wants the young kids to feel secure, and have positive activities like arts and crafts. The day before the march, children had made special decorations in remembrance of Cody Harris and put those in several park trees.

Harris' father said he appreciated that effort. To improve safety, Carl Harris said he would like to see security cameras in the park, and he hopes the city council would take action on that. Harris said that would provide evidence if there is violence, and he hoped that might also deter gang activity.

A suspect was arrested in connection with his son's death. Joseph Mendez, 19, was picked up in late November. And, according to information from the Kern County Court website, he faces a charge of first-degree murder and one of weapon possession. He's set to be back in court in late February.

Monday, marking MLK day, it was the voices of small children calling for safety and no more gang members in the neighborhood park.

"They've had it for too long already," 9-year-old Madison Fowler said. "I think the gangsters will realize that we don't want them to have the park, that they made a park not for them -- but for kids."