‘Fairbanks 4’ supporters stage protest during Gov’s AFN speech

Fairbanks Four supporters protested during Governor Bill Walker’s address to the crowds during opening day at the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention at the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage Thursday. People held up four fingers, and held a banner reading “Justice Fairbanks Four.”

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The pictured handout circulated at AFN on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015. Photo: Jennifer Canfield, KTOO/Juneau
The pictured handout circulated at AFN on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015. 

The protest began about a third of the way through Gov. Bill Walker’s address to the crowd during the first day of the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention, just as the Governor addressed the Fairbanks Four issue.

“Please don’t hold back any of your passion or frustration with me as a result of that, you’re entitled to that. Because of what you have done, your passion they are in trial today, they are in court today. So I fully understand that.”

KNBA journalist Joaqlin Estus describes the scene:

“A crowd of people are holding up a sign that says, “Justice Fourbanks Four” and they’re holding their hands up in the air.”

As protests go, it was polite. Protestors occasionally shouted, “Free the Four!” but mostly stood holding four fingers up to represent the four men at the center of murder case that’s being re-examined by the courts right now.

The Alaska Innocence Project is working to free the men, George Frese, Eugene Vent, Kevin Pease, and Marvin Roberts. Three of the four are Alaska Native and one is American Indian. They were convicted of the October 1997 beating death of 15-year-old John Hartman on a downtown street. Evidence brought forward in recent years points to others being responsible for the killing. A hearing started in a Fairbanks recently to review the case.

After the Governor’s talk, the AFN board and delegates came to the stage and asked the audience to stand together raising four fingers for the Fairbanks Four. As protestors erupted, AFN Co-chair Anna Hoffman from Bethel, requested that the governor deliver justice on the issue.

“Governor Walker … We have on behalf of the Board of Directors and all of the delegation here, we have a very important message for you: Free the Fairbanks Four!”

The crowd joined in with chants of “No more four! No more four!”

After the event, Misty Nickoli, from Fairbanks, said she was drawn to join the movement to free the men when her sons were nearing he age that the Fairbanks Four were arrested. She says it’s not just an issue for her family and community though.

“It’s also an issue for all of Alaska, not just indigenous people. These Fairbanks Four are and yes they’re all Native American, Native Alaskan, However it could have been any power minority. So this is a human issue, an issue for all of Alaska and it affects all of our citizens.”

The hearing for the Fairbanks four is expected to continue through October. George Frese, Eugene Vent, and Kevin Pease remain jailed. Marvin Roberts is out on parole. The Alaska Federation of Natives Conventions runs through Saturday in Anchorage.