Fresno Oppression, Cruelty Ignored

Clovis police officers pose for a photograph outside the Martin Luther King Jr. community breakfast held in January at California Health Sciences University. A June 2022 grand jury report criticized the department as “still very white.” Photo from the Clovis Police CA Facebook
Clovis police officers pose for a photograph outside the Martin Luther King Jr. community breakfast held in January at California Health Sciences University. A June 2022 grand jury report criticized the department as “still very white.” Photo from the Clovis Police CA Facebook
Climate Politics

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

Photos splashed across the Internet of smiling politicians, police and pacifists celebrating together at the Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast held in Clovis last month offered a gallery of epiphanies. One photo would have been enough, as each was tagged as hosted by the Clovis Police Department and held at California Health Sciences University (CHSU) located just off Highway 168.

How many blows against the African American community must land before this event’s organizing committee develops a King-like consciousness of injustice and the conscience to stand against it? Clovis police, the CHSU and Highway 168 are a trifecta of social justice disasters.

Flocks of professional managerial class members have flown to the city of 123,000 on Fresno’s northeast edge, while residents of working-class neighborhoods across south Fresno have subsidized—with their money and health—this flight to the land of brown street signs, rodeos and self-proclaimed (wink-wink) “way of life.” 

The Clovis Police Department was cited just 18 months ago by the Fresno County Grand Jury for its “still very white” force and failure to recruit minority officers. “The department has hired one African-American officer in the past five years, bringing the number of officers in that demographic to two, or about 2% of the force,” the report says of numbers from 2020. Clovis police are 74% white, 21% Hispanic and 3% Asian, the report notes. In comparison, the Fresno Police Department is about 45% white, 41% Hispanic, 6% African-American and 5.5% Asian, according to the report,” wrote Thaddeus Miller in the Fresno Bee.

And that’s the least of the breakfast’s problems. King not only condemned good people for their silence; in his 1967 speech, “The Three Evils of Society,” he said, “The problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power.”

But the CHSU event site is the local embodiment of concentrated political and economic power. It’s difficult to imagine a worse place to commemorate King’s birthday. A limited liability corporation controlled by the Assemi brothers Farid, Farshid and Darius, the private school, which has struggled with accreditation, is directly connected to the largest land-use and financial scandal to hit Fresno since Operation Rezone.

Committee members might want to check their planning meeting notes to see who is representing the Assemi family’s interests. The event conference room was no doubt donated, and presumably the organizers decided they couldn’t ignore the savings. Public relations is an Assemi hallmark.

But at what cost to King’s dream? Locally, about a billion dollars in hospital funds alone, according to one estimate, all from south Fresno.

Bee reporter Yesenia Amaro broke the scandal in 2022 and wrote an update in May 2023: “CHS used federal and state funding generated by the downtown Fresno hospital for treating Medi-Cal and uninsured patients to fund a massive expansion of its Clovis campus in an affluent area. Less than a mile away from the Clovis hospital sits California Health Sciences University—a for-profit medical school owned by Assemi and Flo Dunn, another longtime CHS board member who continues to sit in on CHS board meetings as a guest. Community members who spoke with the Bee, including a local elected official, said changes on the board have only exacerbated concerns that the nonprofit hospital corporation is not serving the interests of Fresno.”

Sorry to say it, but these are not good people. Assemi investments also include vast agricultural holdings where an internal dispute over financial improprieties and breach of contract has led next-generation family member Kevin Assemi to sue his father and uncles. Robert Rodriguez reported in the Bee on Dec. 20:

“‘Defendants had run Assemi and the Assemi Affiliates, including Maricopa into the ground. In their own words, the Assemi empire was near bankruptcy, and the Assemi brothers were simply trying to stay afloat,’ the lawsuit states. The 88-page lawsuit contains 31 causes of action against the defendants. Attorney Stan Blyth said in a news release that his client tried four times to mediate these issues with relatives to try and reach a resolution. ‘But each time he was dealt with in bad faith, with relatives only placing importance on his assets, their value and their ability to stave off insolvency for a little longer.’”

Finally, Highway 168 is the freeway that Fresno County voters said they wouldn’t support when the original Measure C half-cent transportation sales tax was put on the ballot in 1986. They got it anyway. A convenient loophole was crafted to allow politicians to change the list of priorities approved by voters, and hundreds of millions dollars later, Clovis had its freeway. Much needed road and pedestrian safety improvements throughout south Fresno were pushed back by decades, and air pollution allowed to worsen.

As author Catherine Liu pointed out in her 2021 book, The Virtue Hoarders, concentrated political and economic power is maintained by elite workers who “labor in a world of performative identity and virtue signaling”—the Professional Managerial Class. They stand in the way of social justice and economic redistribution “while making a virtue out of taste and consumption habits.”

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