Dr. Sandoval and Brian Perez prior to the eviction of the homeless at Black Rascal Encampment by the Merced Police and Parole Officers on October 13, 2010.

Progressive News Briefs

The Art of Dumpster Diving Explored
By Richard Stone

The video Dive (to be shown November 10 at the Fresno Center for Nonviolence at noon and 7 p.m.) turns attention to another stupidity of corporate capitalism: the purposeful waste of food that might be used to feed the poor. Perfectly usable food, in vast quantities, is chucked by supermarkets across the country—and here in Fresno, too.

To get a local picture, the Community Alliance talked to representatives of three programs that depend on donated food to perform their mission: Saturday Food Not Bombs, which serves meals at Roeding Park; Sunday Food Not Bombs, which serves at Courthouse Park; and Catholic Worker, which provides food Mondays and Wednesdays in front of the M Street jail. We were told that there are some wonderful merchants in Fresno who freely and generously make unused food available. These include all the local farmers’ markets, which give produce, and Whole Foods and La Boulangerie, both of which give bread and pastries. There are also corporate donors like Long John Silver’s, Taco Bell and Starbucks that will give to nonprofit organizations like the Food Bank through what is called the Harvest Program, as long as they can get tax write-offs. In addition, Wal-Mart and Target make bins of surplus foodstuffs and clothing available at 19 cents per pound.

And then there are most of the chain groceries, and McDonald’s, which (similar to stores seen in the video) make a point of keeping their cast-offs inaccessible.

Al Williams of Saturday Food Not Bombs told us that tremendous quantities of food are daily destroyed from school cafeterias and that places like Target shred clothing they throw away rather than donate it or leave it out for the needy. He says that they cite fear of lawsuits as the reason, but surely there could be a way around this. Why, a reasonable person might ask, when there is both surplus and great need, is there such an ethic against generosity?

Representatives of the three organizations we spoke with will be present at one or both of the showings of Dive. They will explain their work and will be looking for volunteers to help locate, pick up, prepare and serve food.

*****

Church Declares “Sanctuary”

Sierra Presbyterian Church of Merced has again opened its doors to the homeless. This time, however, church elders are declaring the church ground as a sanctuary for the homeless who were evicted from their campsites along Black Rascal Creek in mid-October.

“These people were given absolutely no options,” said Elder Marc Medefind. “Rather than have them wander the streets for a place to stay, we felt as Christians we had to once again open our doors.”

And, added homeless advocate Renee Davenport, “What the city has done reminds me of the thugs who cleared out the Hoovervilles during the 1930s.

“I believe what Gandhi said is absolutely true—that ‘a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.’ In Merced, we surely have a long way to go,” she said.

Others questioned why the City Council would selectively target “the least of these” at a time when Merced is initiating a 10-year plan for the homeless that adopts a “housing first” approach, acknowledging that the homeless must be housed—not turned out on the streets—before they can improve their lives.

Medefind said the concept of sanctuary dates back to Old Testament Law, which held that fugitives could take refuge at the altar of God who, as the ultimate source of justice, would protect them from danger.

“Our Presbyterian tradition supports congregations and individuals who provide sanctuary to asylum seekers,” said Medefind. “Our action shows Christian love and compassion for them and simultaneously asks for change in governmental action and policy.

“After all,” said Medefind, “In 2005, the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City was granted a judgment by the U.S. Court of Appeals to establish its right to have the homeless sleep on its steps. We’re simply following their prophetic stance.”

*****
Chowchilla Goodie Bags: Urgent Needs!

Here it is fall again, and Christmas is bearing down on us like a runaway train. So far this year, we have come up short on most of the items needed for the Christmas Goodie Bags for the women incarcerated at Chowchilla Prison. Here is a list of what we need in order to provide each woman with at least a minimum of gift items.

Wish List for Financial or In-Kind Donations:

ZipLoc Bags, 1 gal. (Costco), 25 boxes, freezer strength, @ $10.79 per box, $269.75
Nestlé’s Hot Chocolate (Costco), 54 boxes @ $5.89 per box, $318.06
Lipton Tea (Costco), 12 boxes @ $7.69 per box, $92.28
Candy Bars (Costco), 26 bags @ $13.99 per bag, $363.74
Nescafé Coffee (Smart and Final), 48 boxes @ $9.49 per box, $455.52
Jolly Roger Hard Candy (WalMart), 9 bags @ $7.97 per bag, $71.73
Pencils, #2 (Costco online), 208 boxes @ $.56 per box, $116.48
Total = $1,687.56

Items may be dropped off at the Fresno Center for Nonviolence, 1584 N. Van Ness Ave., during open hours, Monday–Friday, 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Checks can be made out to “FCNV Prison Ministry—Goodie Bags,” and mailed to the FCNV at the above address, or dropped off in person. Receipts will be given. All donations are tax-deductible. For additional information, call Maria Telesco at 559-255-9492.

*****

Four California Police Officers Indicted for Civil Rights Charges

A federal grand jury returned an indictment charging former Fresno Police Department (FPD) Officers Christopher Coleman, 42; Paul Van Dalen, 44; and Sean Plymale, 41; and current FPD Sergeant Michael Manfredi, 50, with civil rights and obstruction of justice offenses related to the assault of a man in their custody in October 2005.

Coleman and Van Dalen are each charged with deprivation of rights under color of law. As alleged in the indictment, Coleman used a 12-gauge shotgun to repeatedly shoot the victim with less-lethal ammunition, which consists of a flexible material that is filled with metal shot. Despite its name, less-lethal ammunition can cause death or serious bodily injury. Coleman is also charged with driving a speeding vehicle at the victim, putting him in fear for his life. The indictment further alleges that Van Dalen repeatedly kicked the victim in the side and stepped on his ankle.

Plymale and Manfredi are each charged with one count of misprision of a felony for their knowing concealment of the assault carried out by Coleman and Van Dalen. All four defendants also are charged with one count of falsifying an official report to obstruct justice.

The case is being investigated by the Fresno Field Office of the FBI. The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Benjamin J. Hawk of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kevin P. Rooney and Elana S. Landau of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California.

*****

Judge Puts Fresno County Outdoor Cultivation Ban on Hold

By Bud Green

A new ordinance prohibiting outdoor medical marijuana cultivation in Fresno County will not be enforced immediately, a judge ruled Wednesday.

A temporary restraining order was sought by four medical cannabis collectives and a patient-grower in a lawsuit filed in mid-October in Fresno County Superior Court. The suit targets the emergency ordinance passed September 14 by Fresno County supervisors, which calls for an immediate ban on all outdoor pot gardens.

That law “constitutes an ex post facto law which results in the taking of plaintiffs’ and others’ similarly situated vested property rights without due process,” says the suit filed by Fresno attorney Brenda Linder. Without ruling on that issue, Judge Jeff Hamilton granted the temporary restraining order and set the issue for a further hearing on November 3, one day after state voters will decide whether non-medical use of marijuana should be legal for adults 21 and up.

“In looking at this, at the time the plaintiffs planted their plants, there was no ordinance prohibiting them from doing so,” Hamilton said. While he took note of two recent Fresno-area shootings involving medical marijuana, as did the Board of Supervisors in passing the ordinance, he termed them “aberrations.”

“It doesn’t appear to the court that there is an immediate danger from this ordinance not being enforced,” Hamilton said.

Deputy County Counsel Mike Linden argued that the September 14 ordinance did not prohibit all marijuana cultivation.

“This is not a complete ban,” Linden said. “It’s merely a land-use ordinance.”

It’s more than that, Linder argued on behalf of the collectives. The ordinance requires growers to “remove or destroy their property and medicine, or to risk being in violation of this ordinance and to risk intrusion into their property by county officials or law enforcement officers in the forced removal of their plants.”

After the hearing, Linder told reporters that thefts from medical marijuana gardens have increased since the ordinance was passed. Growers have been reluctant to report the thefts, she said, because of concerns that the Sheriff’s Department would take enforcement action against them instead of tracking down the thieves.

“I am very happy that this part of the system works,” Linder said. “I have a problem with the part of the system that created the ordinance, just because they didn’t like state law” regarding medical marijuana.

Linder’s suit was filed on behalf of the Earthsource Collective, Garden Ablaze, the Central Valley Collective, the Healing Health Center and William Carney, an individual grower. Named as defendants are Fresno County, Sheriff Margaret Mims and Alan Weaver, director of public works. The November 3 hearing will determine whether a preliminary injunction will stay enforcement of the ordinance until the matter goes to trial.

For more information about this issue, go to http://www.fresnocannabis.org/.

  • 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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