Defending Our Civil Liberties: The Local ACLU in Action

Defending Our Civil Liberties: The Local ACLU in Action
Image by George Kelly via Flickr Creative Commons

Usually, I write about the activities of the Fresno Area Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). But I was at a meeting at Fresno’s West Side Library in August with Diana Tate Vermeire, the director of racial justice policy for the Northern California affiliate of the ACLU, and several members of the local community to discuss the school situation in southwest Fresno. Vermeire commented that “litigation isn’t always the best approach, and, besides, the ACLU sues Fresno plenty!”

That led me to think about the many involvements of the San Francisco affiliate in Fresno and in the Central Valley. Most famous, of course, was the homeless lawsuit a few years ago that stopped Fresno, and every other city in California, from destroying the property of homeless people.

But in the last three years, the affiliate has intervened in numerous situations that affect all of us. Early on, the affiliate became involved in the proposed River Park curfew, in the City’s practice of requiring a permit to register voters on Fulton Mall, in the struggle for a Fresno independent police auditor (IPA) and in requiring the Fresno Police Department to give a more adequate response when people file complaints. An ACLU attorney consulted with local people about potential Williams Act violations in our area schools. The affiliate continues to be involved in Fresno’s Film Permit Policy, which we thought, until early August, had been settled.

More recently, the affiliate gave the chapter direction in responding to a situation in Dunlap in which a student refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Affiliate staff responded to a landlord who wouldn’t allow political signs the landlord disagreed with, but did allow other signs. The affiliate also intervened when a local hospital refused to allow a woman to visit or advocate for her hospitalized lesbian partner. An affiliate lawyer contacted Fresno City College concerning a teacher’s comments about homosexuality and his use of the Bible in class assignments.

The affiliate has partnered with Californians for Justice to confront the high school dropout, or “pushout,” problem in the Fresno area. Affiliate staff have worked with California Rural Legal Assistance about the rights of members of the LGBT community in rural areas and with Central California Legal Services on homeless issues in the Central Valley.

An ACLU attorney is working with local groups about police practices in the Central Valley that affect the immigrant community. The affiliate continues to pursue a lawsuit challenging the Fresno Police Department’s apparent policy of not releasing names of officers involved in significant events. And now the affiliate has begun a Community Networking Project to identify local community organizations and campus organizations that could benefit from ACLU resources.

Affiliate staff often joke that they should open an office in Fresno. I don’t see how the ACLU of Northern California could be any more involved in the Central Valley, even with a local office!

The one Fresno Area Chapter event I should mention is our Annual Membership Meeting and election of officers to be held on Monday, September 13, at 5:30 p.m. Again this year, the meeting will include a complementary Chinese buffet at the Golden Restaurant (1135 N. Fulton St.). All are invited, but seating is limited so reservations are required. If you would like to participate, please RSVP to ACLU Staff Attorney Michael Risher will be the guest speaker.


  • Community Alliance

    The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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