Photo by Jess Hamilton via Flickr Creative Commons

The ACLU at Work

By: Bill Simon

The Greater Fresno Area Chapter of the ACLU-NC, with considerable support from staff at the affiliate in San Francisco, is working hard to preserve the constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties that should be enjoyed by all of our people. Some of the work is fulfilling and practically “fun.”

The fun includes things like participating in the Martin Luther King March on January 18, addressing the Oakhurst Democratic Club on February 6; meeting with Eddie Aubrey of Fresno’s new Office of Independent Review on February 10 and addressing the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) conference on February 20. We are looking forward to participating at the National Network in Action (NNIA)’s Social Justice Program on March 6 and Peace Fresno’s Peace and Justice Festival on March 21. Fun also includes working with students at Fresno State to start an ACLU Club on campus.

Then there is the work that is just plain frustrating. The leading frustration for the past couple of months has been the situation of homeless people in Fresno. First, there was the closing of the Ventura and F Street encampment on January 28 and the eviction of the same homeless people from three different vacant lots, two city-owned, in one day.

The City’s effort to accomplish this eviction started in early December, involved three court hearings and finally happened despite a great number of legal questions about how the city proceeded. Central California Legal Services (CCLS) lawyers worked hard on the court part of this process, only to have the city withdraw the court case.

Then there was the passage of the city’s Median Island Safety Ordinance. We worked hard on this one too, but again failed. Because it is “unsafe” for anyone to solicit funds on a median, the city passed an ordinance that says no one can solicit funds from a median unless they pay for a permit and wear an orange vest. Then they can solicit funds once every six months.

Apparently, the activity becomes safe when you get a permit. This ordinance effectively preserves the Kids Day and firefighter fund-raisers but bans the homeless and the poor. Of course, if the homeless and the poor can successfully navigate the permit system and buy an orange vest, they, too, can safely stand on a median twice a year.

Last February, the local ACLU chapter participated in a joint press conference with 20 other local organizations calling for an independent police auditor (IPA), a federal Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation of the Fresno Police Department (FPD), community-police meetings, implementation of community-based policing, and culture and sensitivity training for the police department. Finally, we have sent a request for a pattern-and-practice investigation of the FPD to the DOJ.

Too many times Fresnans have seen the police display an unnecessarily aggressive attitude, use excessive force and generally disregard the rights of the people, such as in their inadequate response to police complaints, harassment of the homeless and delays in fulfilling California Public Records Act (PRA) requests. Since the press conference, this overly aggressive culture in the police department has resulted in 12 officer-involved shootings, eight of them deadly.

Also in the frustrating department.
* There was the need to have a lawyer with the affiliate send a letter to Fresno City College demanding that the school ensure that all its health science classes teach unbiased and medically accurate information.
* The lawsuit against the FPD relating to the city’s lack of response to a PRA request for the names of the police officers involved in the Glen Beaty case will drag on for at least another year.
* We continue to work with the affiliate and Californians for Justice on the Schools for All Campaign to combat the push-out problem in our high schools, more popularly referred to by school officials as the “dropout problem.”
*We are looking at the use of DUI checkpoints, and the affiliate has a lawyer assigned to immigration issues who has submitted PRA requests to the FPD and other police and sheriff’s units in the Central Valley. The suspicion is that these checkpoints are employed in a discriminatory manner and perhaps, in some locations, as a tool against immigrants.

And so the work goes on.

Bill Simon is past chair of the Fresno Area Chapter ACLU-NC and is currently the volunteer coordinator for the chapter. Contact him at simonaclu@sbcglobal.net.

  • 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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