By Bill Simon
On Sept. 12, 72 people gathered at the Golden Restaurant to celebrate the Greater Fresno Chapter ACLU-NC’s fifth annual membership meeting and the election of a new board. And what a party it was! There was a lot to celebrate.
The chapter has had a busy year dealing with issues involving the police, prison and jail, the homeless, the LGBT community, schools, immigration, supporting affiliate campaigns and various presentations in the community.
As a result of our lawsuit against the Fresno Police Department, names of officers involved in significant incidents are now routinely released. And the affiliate was awarded $79,000 in legal fees. Our request for the Fresno County Grand Jury to investigate Fresno County Jail’s withholding of proper medications for mentally ill inmates didn’t go as well so the revolving door between the jail and Atascadero is presumably still a problem.
School issues involved everything from uniforms to illegal student charges to the Pledge of Allegiance (especially in Clovis and in outlying areas) to school discipline. We did a lot of lobbying with state legislators, especially about budget and prison issues.
The affiliate’s legal and organizing departments have been so busy in Fresno and the Central Valley that Shayna Gelender, the lead organizer, came to announce that the affiliate has opened a small office in Fresno. As expected, Gelender introduced the new affiliate organizer for the Central Valley, Hector Cerda, whose first day on the job was the day of the membership meeting. Unexpectedly, she also introduced Pam Whalen, who is working as a consultant for the affiliate in Fresno County on AB 109, the prison realignment bill, and perhaps other issues.
Julia Mass, the primary affiliate attorney for immigration issues, was our guest speaker. She spoke, of course, about immigration issues, which have to become a much more important effort for the chapter this year. But Mass also worked with the chapter this past year on uniform issues at Bullard High School. And she recalled that she hadn’t been to Fresno since she was a new ACLU lawyer and came to Fresno in 2004 to look into the Sheriff Department’s infiltration of Peace Fresno.
I’m still recovering from Mass pointing out that one of the few crimes that doesn’t have a statute of limitations is the one-year-old who enters the country illegally when his/her parents carry their baby across the border. And that the new border fences don’t keep the undocumented out when they come to pick our crops, but it does discourage them from returning home when the harvest is completed.
Perhaps most exciting is the election of our new board with 19 members. That’s probably too many, but it demonstrates how important the ACLU has become in the Central Valley. And it is the most diverse board we have ever had whether you consider it by ethnicity, age, gender or geography.
The Greater Fresno Chapter is supposed to serve Madera, Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties. However, we have been challenged in significantly reaching beyond Fresno and Clovis. The new board includes members from Selma, Dinuba and Visalia. Maybe next year we can add board members from Madera and Kings counties. Maybe even a high school student.
The new board includes Roger Brown, Catherine Campbell, Carlos Casarez, James Casarez, Dr. Charlie Chang, Irene Frank, Henry Garcia, Jamal Gray, Donna Hardina, Rev. Floyd Harris, Jean Hays, John Kelly, Steve Malm, Kathy Mitchell, Debbie Reyes, Cesar Sanchez, Bill Simon, Chukou Thao and Regina Williams.
Bill Simon has served on the ACLU Fresno Area Chapter Board since its founding in March 2007 and currently serves as volunteer coordinator. Contact him at email@example.com.