Fresno Law Targeting Advocates and Reporters from Observing Unhoused Sweeps Challenged in Federal Court by ACLU and Homeless Union

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By The Vanguard Staff

FRESNO, CA –A new law here that targets unhoused people, and puts “unconstitutional restrictions on advocates and reporters who try to draw attention to how the unhoused are treated during encampment sweeps” is itself the target of a new federal lawsuit filed here Thursday by the ACLU Foundation of Northern California.

Read the complaint here.

The ACLU said Fresno city officials last month are creating a “buffer zone” around abatement activity, like encampment sweeps, taking place on public property.

“Anyone who enters the off-limits area ‘without express authorization’ from the city can now be charged with a misdemeanor or fined up to $250,” the ACLU charged.

“This is an outrageously broad ordinance that threatens criminal sanctions against those who want to observe, document, or report on the City’s actions,” said Chessie Thacher, a senior staff attorney for the Democracy & Civic Engagement program at the ACLU of Northern California.

Thacher added, “It’s a direct assault not just on our plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, but on everyone’s rights.”

The ACLU and the California Homeless Union, represented by the Law Offices of Anthony D. Prince, filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California on behalf of Dez Martinez, who is a homeless advocate and was once unhoused, Robert McCloskey, a reporter and activist, the Fresno Homeless Union, and Faith in the Valley.

The ACLU is arguing, “Advocates, organizers, and the media play a critical watchdog role during encampment sweeps when city workers often forcibly remove unhoused persons and destroy their possessions. The lawsuit notes that advocates once prevented an unhoused individual from being run over by a bulldozer during a sweep.”

“By removing the people who keep officials accountable, this ordinance puts people who have nowhere else to live directly in harm’s way,” said Anthony D. Prince, general counsel for the California Homeless Union.

Prince added that, “Instead of addressing the housing crisis, Fresno is targeting individuals and organizations who are on the ground working with the unhoused.”

And the ACLU and advocates are insisting the Fresno ordinance is “part of the intensifying war against unhoused people occurring all over California, which the ACLU documented in a recent report, ‘Outside the Law: The Legal War Against Unhoused People.’”

“The city simply wants no witnesses, media or supporters when they abuse the homeless and violate their rights. They don’t want the public to see how they use violence to forcibly remove people from their only home and treat their treasured possessions like garbage,” said Plaintiff Martinez, founder of We Are Not Invisible and Homeless in Fresno.

Martinez, according to the ACLU, “regularly visits encampments, organizes residents and distributes aid, documents encampment sweeps, and posts videos to her (14,000) followers on social media.”

The federal filing asserts the city began “drafting the new ordinance restricting advocates and witnesses on January 5—just one day after a code enforcement officer was cited for assaulting Ms. Martinez while she was filming a sweep.”

The lawsuit is attempting to prevent the ordinance from going into effect March 31 and voided altogether.

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One thought on “Fresno Law Targeting Advocates and Reporters from Observing Unhoused Sweeps Challenged in Federal Court by ACLU and Homeless Union”

  1. Alan Miller

    Of course the ACLU is correct that media should be able to witness the sweeps and that is a good thing.  I suspect the real issue may be ‘who is media’ and are they acting as media, or as media-activists?  The person sited, “Plaintiff Martinez” is said to be — from the Fresno Bee? — No, she is said to be the founder of We Are Not Invisible and Homeless in Fresno and “regularly visits encampments, organizes residents and distributes aid, documents encampment sweeps, and posts videos to her (14,000) followers on social media.”  So is she ‘observing’ or ‘getting in the way’ ?  There shouldn’t be a ‘line’ for real media, but anyone observing as media should act professionally and only in that single role, not use their media badge as an excuse to get inside.

    “They don’t want the public to see how they use violence to forcibly remove people from their only home and treat their treasured possessions like garbage”.  Well I hate to break it to you, but many of their possessions are garbage.  Literally.  And if someone leaves garbage behind and it isn’t picked up, it is quickly picked through by more passing ‘homeless’ people.  This isn’t speculation, I see this out my window and fight it on a near daily basis.   But I’m sure someone is going to get on here and demand that I call them ‘possession heaps’.  And it may be their only home, but it’s also stated to be private property, so of course they can be removed for trespassing.

    But as for the first part, of course there should be media observing so that people are not treated with violence.  So if this Fresno ban is on all media, it won’t stand up constitutionally.  But everyone considers themselves media these days (even blogs), so I’d have to see the Fresno law and find out the other side to this story to call it, but as usual Van G. Staff has not quoted law enforcement nor Fresno officials, only the ‘homeless’ ‘advocates’.  How does one ‘take a side’ if there is, apparently, only one?

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