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Progressive News Briefs

City Gives Homeless the Bum’s Rush

The City of Fresno is able to create the illusion, through its capable public relations team, that it is working hard to end homelessness. It has even convinced some people in the community that the city is making progress toward ending homelessness.

The reality is that the City of Fresno used to spend money through the general fund to end homelessness. In 2009, $2,530,000 was spent from the general fund to end homelessness. According to Fresno homeless czar Greg Barfield, the city has budgeted absolutely nothing out of the general fund to end homelessness in the current fiscal year. The only money it is spending on homelessness out of the general fund is being used to shut down a project that was previously funded.

Instead, the city has set up the nonprofit Fresno First Steps Home campaign, which effectively privatizes this community’s effort to end homelessness. Mayor Ashley Swearengin held a press conference in July announcing a couple of donations to the nonprofit. She is also asking every person in the city to donate $1 a month. These donations were presented as a major step forward in the struggle to end homelessness in this community.

The contribution of $221,000 by a couple of corporations, which was announced at the mayor’s press conference, was a disappointing drop in the bucket of what is needed. The announcement of these contributions was ironically reported in the Fresno Bee next to an announcement of a $4.1 million project in Clovis to build a shelter for dogs and cats. Whether someone at the Bee has a sense of (dark) humor has not been determined.

The Community Alliance has learned that Fresno First Steps Home is run by developer Tom Richards. Richards was also the chairperson of the city’s Ten-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness and is one of the owners of property at F and Ventura streets. Richards gave the “go ahead” to the city to evict homeless people from his property earlier this year.

Penstar, the development company that Richards owns, plans to build a 71-unit single residency occupancy (SRO) housing project with the Poverello House and the Housing Authority at Santa Clara and G (behind Kerr Rug, on what is now a parking lot and a vacant lot with a garden on it).

Some funding to end homelessness is coming into the community from state and federal sources. Most of that money goes to social service providers that are putting a band-aid on the problem but not ending homelessness. Some of the money is being used to put the homeless in apartments. So far, more than 200 people have gotten housing through this program, out of the estimated 15,000 (and growing every day) homeless in Fresno.

While homelessness grows and the homeless suffer unimaginable hardship in this community, the city’s shameless game of smoke and mirrors continues to victimize the most vulnerable among us and enrich the poverty pimps who live like parasites off of their suffering.

*****

No Justice in Sight

Glen Beaty was homeless and sleeping under a tree when he was approached by Fresno police officers, beaten and taken to jail. Video of the February 9, 2009, inci-dent was shown around the world.

Beaty was never charged with a crime in the incident caught on film (see www.ksee24.com/news/local/39403357.html?video=YHI&t=a). Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer claimed right after the video had come out that his officers had been attacked by Beaty. There was never any evidence to support that claim, and the District Attorney’s office never filed charges against Beaty in the incident.

Nonetheless, Beaty spent February–October 2009 in the Fresno County Jail, where he was in a crowded cell and only allowed out for exercise one hour a week. Beaty, being depressed about his situation, rarely even left the cell when he could.

Beaty was held on charges from a previous incident and was declared to be mentally unable to assist in his own defense. A judge ordered him to be given medication to improve his mental health. When Beaty asked what medication and dose he was being asked to take, the court would not give him that information. He refused to consent to being medicated and the court ordered him to a mental health facility in Norwalk, where he remains today.

What has happened to Glen Beaty, the homeless man Fresno police beat last year? Read the “No Justice in Sight” article below for an update.

A couple of days after the video of this incident emerged, Dyer and Swearengin held a press conference (see www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/02/12/18569804.php). At this press conference, the mayor announced that she was committed to implementing an independent police auditor (IPA) and Dyer said that the Beaty incident would be investigated by the Fresno County District Attorney’s office and then reviewed by the State of California Attorney General.

The mayor fulfilled her promise of establishing the Office of Independent Review (OIR). However, Fresno’s OIR director has no ability to independently investigate incidents and it is caught up in the politics at City Hall. If Eddie Aubrey, the OIR director, issues a report that is critical of police actions, Community Alliance newspaper sources say it would never see the light of day as it would be withheld from public view by the city manager. If Aubrey did release information that was critical of police action, we suspect that he would lose his job.

Dyer, on the other hand, told the community that the Beaty incident would be investigated by the District Attorney’s office and then reviewed by the state Attorney General. That never happened. What did happen was that the Fresno Police Department (FPD) held an Internal Affairs (IA) investigation that resulted in a review of the officers involved. We will never know the result of the IA investigation because the FPD does not release those reports. What we do know is that one of the officers involved got a promotion shortly after the Beaty incident and the other was involved in the shooting death of a mentally ill man late last year.

Instead of the DA’s office investigating the Beaty incident, it turned over files to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Steve Dupre, the FBI media contact at the Sacramento office, told the Community Alliance that the FBI had opened a civil rights investigation into the incident. After about a year of considering the case, Dupre announced in August 2010 that the FBI had decided not to pursue the investigation.

It now looks like there will not be an independent investigation of the Beaty incident. Beaty, who appears to be the victim of excessive force by Fresno police officers, remains detained and is being medicated against his will. It is possible that he will never be released and justice might not be found in this case.

The Beaty case is a great example of why we need a truly independent police auditor that has investigatory power and is not caught up in the political winds at Fresno City Hall. We need an IPA that is fearless and transparent and who will investigate incidents like this case and bring justice to the community, no matter what the outcome.

*****

Fresno Drug Wars Rage

Drug wars continue to rage both in the City of Fresno (attacks against medical marijuana dispensaries) and Fresno County with the annual marijuana eradication campaign in the Sierra Nevada foothills and mountains.

This year, a task force of local, state and federal agents say that they destroyed 432,271 marijuana plants worth $1.7 billion. To put that into perspective, that would make Fresno County one of the largest marijuana growing regions in the state and the stated value of the crop exceeds that of cotton and grapes combined.

Observers say that the value of the marijuana is grotesquely inflated by government officials who are assuming all plants would yield an unnatural amount of buds and that it would be sold for the maximum amount, one spliff at a time.

Drug wars rage in Fresno County. Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims, with national drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske (left), announced the results of their latest campaign in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske was in town, for the second year in a row, to participate in the operation. Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said she believes Mexican drug cartels are involved, but refused to identify which ones. Mims and Kerlikowske’s emphasis for the past two years has been that undocumented Mexican nationals are destroying public lands in the Sierra Nevada by clear-cutting forests, using pesticides and diverting creeks, in their pursuit of growing marijuana. The Mexican drug cartel connection was reinforced in a press release sent out by the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department saying that the La Familia Michoacán cartel may be the most violent and its associates may pose the greatest threat in California.

Mims said that nearly all of the 97 people arrested were Mexican nationals and that the multiagency task force involved included immigration agents. A critic of the operation, who asked not to be identified, said she doubted the government claims of the success of the operation and said that “Kerlikowske and Mims are just singing for their supper.” She added that “if you want to end the drug wars, you should just legalize and tax marijuana, because it is far less harmful than alcohol and tobacco.”

Proposition 19, which will be on the November ballot, would legalize marijuana.

  • Mike Rhodes is the executive director of theCommunity Alliance newspaper and author of the book Dispatches from the War Zone, about homelessness in Fresno. www.mikerhodes.us is his website. Contact him at mikerhodes@comcast.net.

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