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by Mike Rhodes Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2004 at 2:44 AM (559) 226-0477

A SHORT CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS: * Last year the Sheriff’s department infiltrated Peace Fresno, allegedly looking for terrorists * At the same time, a Fresno City Council member sent an email saying that if he had a dirty bomb he could eliminate all of the liberals in Fresno * An aide to a City Council member sent an email that suggested sending “over some officers to 'Cap' these guys” (HRC members) * Messages threatening violence against peace activists were posted on the Free Republic web site * A Press Release was sent out warning the community about that threat of violence * The Free Republic filed a million dollar lawsuit against the City of Fresno because of that Press Release * The mayor and conservatives on the City Council attacked the Human Relations Commission (HRC) because of the Press Release * And NOW the city settles that lawsuit by forcing the chair of the HRC to resign and giving the Freepers ,000 What is wrong with this picture? Who are the real terrorists?

city_council.jpg, image/jpeg, 500x375



By Mike Rhodes

January 11, 2004

In September of 2003 Debbie Reyes, the Chairperson of the Human Relations Commission (HRC) in Fresno, sent a Press Release to the media to warn the community about potential violence at a Free Republic (they call themselves Freepers) rally and picnic. The Press Release referred to the Freepers as a “hate group” and encouraged the public to stay away from the area.

When the media went to the site of the rally (Shaw and Blackstone) they found 5-10 flag waving “patriots” saying that they were just there to support the president. Jim Robinson, the head of the Free Republic, played his role as a persecuted martyr very well and within two weeks went on the attack with a million dollar lawsuit filed against the City of Fresno claiming that their reputation had been damaged.

The lawsuit opened a new front in an ongoing war against the HRC by conservatives in Fresno. The conservatives hate the HRC because they are an effective force for promoting cultural diversity, they honor the role of leaders like Martin Luther King Jr, and use conflict resolution techniques to resolve problems in the community. The mayor and several City Council members don’t believe that the HRC should support workers struggling for a living wage, help to organize activities honoring MLK Jr. and Cesar Chavez, or to make the connections between the war in Iraq and poverty in this city.

Fresno mayor Alan Autry appears to have used the lawsuit as an opportunity to further attack and weaken the HRC. In the last six months he has implemented a process to redefine the HRC’s mission, cut funding to the agency, and now Chairperson Debbie Reyes has been forced to resign.

Why didn’t the City of Fresno fight this lawsuit? Why are they funding the Free Republic, to the tune of ,000, with the taxpayers money? If this case had gone to court the issue would have been whether or not the Press Release defining the Free Republic as a “hate group” was accurate or not. Could the reason that this case never went to court be because it was never about uncovering the truth or defending the Chair of the HRC in the performance of her duties? This suit, which was filed on behalf of the Free Republic, gave Fresno mayor Alan Autry and conservative forces on the City Council leverage to weaken, destroy, and/or redefine the mission of the HRC.

The issue that brought about the Free Republic lawsuit was that the Press Release, sent by Debbie Reyes of the HRC, identified the Freepers as a hate group. How is a group determined to be a “hate group?” According to Debbie Reyes “the FBI does not have a list of officially defined hate groups.” She says that “The Southern Poverty Law Center is often cited as an authoritative source for defining who is or who is not a hate group.” Does the Southern Poverty Law Center define the Free Republic as a hate group? “Not yet,” says Reyes, “but according to Southern Poverty Law Center criteria they should be.” This lawsuit and subsequent court case could have clarified that issue.

For the record, Debbie Reyes says that she is resigning "due to a recent career opportunity that will require a great amount of my time and attention." Her new job is as an organizer for The Prison Moratorium Project organizing to stop the construction of prisons in and around the central valley.

The Fresno Bee reported on Friday, January 9 that “Council President Brad Castillo said the city never assumed liability for Reyes' comments. He said Reyes' resignation was a gesture on her part to avoid any further litigation or accusations against the HRC or its members. He also said the city is sued often. ‘It's cheaper to pay these guys and get rid of them than waste an attorney's time on them,’ Castillo said.”

It is difficult to determine what the progressive community has learned from this experience. Some people believe that if the Free Republic rally had just been ignored, none of this would have happened. Is the community better off when you allow groups to spew racist, religious, or homophobic hatred without a response? That might work some of the time but not always (think Germany in the 1930's). Did we learn anything about letting the City Attorney’s office defend the legal and political interests of the progressive community? Has anyone questioned whether Council member Jerry Duncan’s role in the settlement represents a conflict of interest? Could community groups have been more supportive of the HRC and prevented the latest attacks? What is the role of the HRC when confronted with a potentially violent situation? Should they send press releases warning the community about public safety issues? Maybe there are more questions than answers right now.

If you have insights into the lessons learned in this incident, please feel free to share them by clicking on the “add your comments” button below.

For background on the HRC issue, go to:

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Participants at MLK march sponsored by the HRC

by Mike Rhodes Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2004 at 2:44 AM (559) 226-0477

Participants at MLK ...
jobs_with_justice_2.jpg, image/jpeg, 500x375

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Mayor Allen Autry speaking at MLK march in 2001

by Mike Rhodes Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2004 at 2:44 AM (559) 226-0477

Mayor Allen Autry sp...
mayor_autry_and_che.jpg, image/jpeg, 400x323

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Debbie Reyes resigned from the HRC

by Mike Rhodes Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2004 at 2:44 AM (559) 226-0477

Debbie Reyes resigne...
debbie_reyes.jpg, image/jpeg, 500x562

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Jerry Duncan (Photo 1)

by Mike Rhodes Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2004 at 2:44 AM (559) 226-0477

Jerry Duncan (Photo ...
jerry_duncan.jpg, image/jpeg, 321x480

Does Jerry Duncan’s presence at this Free Republic rally constitute a conflict of interest?

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Jerry Duncan (Photo 2)

by Mike Rhodes Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2004 at 2:44 AM (559) 226-0477

Jerry Duncan (Photo ...
duncan___jim_robinson.jpg, image/jpeg, 321x480

Free Republic leader Jim Robinson in wheelchair and City Council member Jerry Duncan in background at Freeper rally at Shaw and Blackstone

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city government is often a nest of smalltime corporate interests more rational Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2004 at 7:39 AM

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