State Fair Seeks Advice
Forums will solicit community’s help in avoiding a repeat of last year’s violence.Ralph Montaño, Sacramento Bee, Jan. 27, 2004
A comment from the reader who sent this article in:
Several years ago the California State Fair in Sacramento began observing “Black Culture Day,” held on the last Saturday of the fair’s run, which, of course, would end in a riot, with black “youths” jumping up and down on passing cars, sometimes dragging white people out, and so on. Officials were in a quandary. They were puzzled. They scratched their heads. They held community meetings to ask “black community leaders” what in the heck is causing these disturbances, and how they can be prevented? In a stroke of great cleverness, they must have thought, they simply canceled all single culture days and said that every day of the fair will be a celebration of ALL cultures! But the black riots continue anyway, on the same Saturday night. Now more community meetings are being held. In one of the latest televised reports from Sacramento, examining the recurring riots, exhibiting either a wonderful example of journalistic obliviousness or deadpan comic delivery, the white reporter ended his presentation with the observation that these riots always “seem to happen on the same night.” Yes, how utterly mysterious. Whatever could be causing such unpleasantness where sleepy Ferris wheels, cotton candy and freckle-faced kids proudly presenting their 4-H projects was once the norm?
Last Aug. 30, the California State Fair tradition known as Black Culture Day ended on a sour note.
It was the final Saturday of the fair and 86,000 people, a record day for the year, had passed through the gates. The Rev. Archie Sims was at Cal Expo when groups of youngsters attempted to incite mass panic by setting off fireworks, yelling “Gun!” and running.
“It was terrible,” Sims said.
Authorities refer to the thousands pushing towards the exits near closing time as “surges.” There were four surges in a short period of time as the crowds emptied into the parking lots.
The problems didn’t end there. Some people refused to leave. Fights broke out. A person was stabbed. Five cars had their windshields broken and their hoods caved in.
Officials of the California State Fair decided two years ago to no longer spotlight ethnic cultures on set days, beginning this year. But there remains an underlying concern that the fair’s final Saturday will continue to draw large numbers of African American youth and the problems of the last few years will continue. Community meetings intended to prevent this are being held beginning today.
“We hope there will be something there that we can all agree on and work on together,” said Brian May, deputy general manager of Cal Expo.
Leaders in the African American community have formed a task force with a goal of preventing future problems at the fair, May said. The task force met in October and decided that the first step to prevention is a discussion of the roots of the problems.
Derrell Roberts, co-founder of Roberts Family Development Center in North Sacramento and a member of Cal Expo’s cultural advisory board, said the meetings open an important dialogue between the community and fair organizers.
“My hope is that (Cal Expo) will communicate with the broader community, not just people on their boards,” Roberts said. “The community needs to know that Black Culture Day was not done away with because of these problems.”
Fair officials said the decision to end ethnic cultural days had nothing to do with the disturbances. Black Culture Day was one of three days started at the fair in 1980 in an effort to increase minority attendance. Other days spotlighted Latino and Asian Pacific Island cultures.
Given the multiethnic makeup of California and Sacramento, which has been cited as the most diverse city in the nation, the culture days no longer seemed relevant, May said. Instead, more cultural programming will be offered throughout the fair in 2004.
This is a trend in fairs across the country, said Stephen Chambers, executive director of the Sacramento-based Western Fairs Association, a not-for-profit trade group of 150 fairs.
“I’ve seen a slow but steady erosion on cultural days, but the end result is an overall increase in cultural programming,” Chambers said. “More and more fairs use cultural focus groups as a way to find out what kinds of programming will attract those markets.”
Sims said the African American community needs to address the problem.
“The young people are doing it,” Sims said. “They are just coming there to cause problems and it needs to stop.”
He said the meetings are good forums to share ideas.
Others point out the meetings are a step in the right direction, but far from a solution.
“It is going to take more than a meeting with leaders in Sacramento,” said David De Luz, president of the Sacramento chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He said African Americans from across Northern California attend the final Saturday and the problem will have to be solved by a grass-roots movement that reaches beyond the city and Cal Expo.