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Homeless Advocate = Terrorist Threat?

by Mike Rhodes (editor [at]
Fresno homeless rights activists have caught the eye of Homeland Security and the attention of the Police Department's Terrorism Liaison Officers. Photo below: The Mariposa Mall in Fresno, where this story begins.
Homeless Advocate = Terrorist Threat?
By Mike Rhodes

A Fresno homeless advocate has been sent a letter from Homeland Security, informing him that his attempts to help the homeless have been “brought to the attention of the Police Department's Terrorism Liaison Officers.” The unwanted attention of the Homeland Security anti-terrorism group followed a City of Fresno “clean up” of a homeless encampment on the Mariposa Mall in downtown Fresno.

Several homeless advocates monitored the “clean up” and removal of homeless people’s property on the morning of April 22, 2009 by City Sanitation Workers. “Clean ups” at the Mariposa Mall site, just west of Fresno City Hall, are conducted about once a month. City Sanitation puts up signs announcing the date of the clean up, most of the homeless people move out shortly before they arrive, and move back later in the day. It is a meaningless game of cat and mouse that is not intended to help the homeless or make their life better in any way. As a result of this constant harassment, sometimes the homeless lose their property. This happens if they are gone for a few days visiting a friend or family member when the city “cleans up” this encampment.

The signs announced the start of the “clean up” as 8 a.m., but on April 22 they started early. Bill Simon, chairperson of the local ACLU and one of the advocates who were on site that day, wrote that “Phil Connelly arrived at the cleanup site at 7:20. Georgia and I arrived about 7:40. All 3 of us had cameras. Phil said the cleanup started just after he got there. One homeless woman was there talking to Phil when I arrived and no other homeless were in sight. She was all packed up and left as I arrived.”

Connelly left the Mariposa Mall “clean up” and went to the City of Fresno Corporate Yard (2101 G street) in an attempt to see where the confiscated property was taken. It has been city policy to store property at that location for 90 days, or until it is reclaimed. Connelly says he spoke with Phillip Weathers at the Community Sanitation office. “I saw Weathers at the event today and at a previous clean up on H St. He supervised both events. He told me the confiscated items were not brought to the City of Fresno Corporation Yard (the large complex at the N/W corner of G and El Dorado Streets),” Connelly wrote in an email.

Connelly says Weathers told him “the persons who own the confiscated property are expected to call his office at the number listed on the posted notices (even though his name is not on the notice). Weathers said that if the owner can provide a description of their confiscated property; Weathers or a staff member will take the property to a location where the owner wants to reclaim it, or the property will be retrieved from its current storage location and the owner can come to the Community Sanitation office to claim the confiscated property.”

The policy of storing homeless people’s property for 90 days is the result of a lawsuit against the City of Fresno. The homeless won a class action lawsuit against the city, because City Sanitation was taking and immediately destroying homeless people’s property. The homeless received a $2.3 million settlement in the case, the largest settlement of its kind in the country.

A few days after his visit to the City of Fresno Corporate Yard , Phillip Connelly was contacted by Sgt. Ronald Grimm, Homeland Security Coordinator for the Fresno Police Department. Here is the letter he received:

This e-mail is in regards to your visit to the City of Fresno Corporate Yard (2101 G Street) on April 22 of this year. This facility is considered a Key Resource to the City of Fresno, and is critical to the continuity of government for our area. Inasmuch, issues regarding the security (or breeches of security) at this facility fall within the investigative responsibility of the Fresno Police Dept. Your actions during your visit to this facility (primarily the photographing of specific sites on the premises and the contact you had with City personnel) caused concern among several City employees and was brought to the attention of the Police Department's Terrorism Liaison Officers.

While we assume your visit to the premises was related to an ongoing investigation, I would like to ask for your cooperation for any future visits. If possible, could you please inform City employees at the facility as to the nature of your visit and the particular public areas you would like to visit. Also, if you could inform these same employees that you will be taking photographs in public-access areas it would probably prevent the issue from becoming a concern of the Terrorism Liaison Officer unit.

Thank you for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me directly.

Sgt. Ronald Grimm
Homeland Security Coordinator
Fresno Police Department
(559) 621-2329

Is being an advocate for homeless rights a legitimate reason for being investigated by Homeland Security and coming under the scrutiny of the Police Department's Terrorism Liaison Officers? Will Connelly and other advocates be on a Homeland Security watch list of Domestic Terrorists? Perhaps Connelly is destined to be whisked off the street, sent to Guantanamo Bay, and tortured until he confesses his nefarious actions in support of homeless people in this community?

For a list of articles and documents about the struggle for civil liberties for homeless people in Fresno, see:



Today (Monday, May 11) I was downtown at the Fresno Police Department (with a delegation from the ACLU, getting a presentation about their use of video surveillance cameras) when Sargent Ronald Grimm, Homeland Security Coordinator for the Fresno Police Department comes over to say hi. Of course, I asked him why they had targeted Phil when he was at the City Yard. Grimm explained that they had just conducted a workshop on the importance of City of Fresno employees being “alert” to anything unusual happening in their workplace - or perhaps anywhere in the city. In any event, one “alert” employee saw Phil at the City Yard, took notes about what he was doing, probably wrote down his car’s licence number, and promptly reported the suspect to the Police Department's Terrorism Liaison Officer. Grimm contacted Burke Farah, who is in charge of Video Surveillance, and his department reviewed the video of Phil walking around looking for what the city did with the homeless people’s property they removed from the Mariposa Mall. The search of the video did not, we can assume, turn up anything too sinister, so the police tracked Phil down through his car license number or by talking to Phillip Weathers in the Sanitation department, who Phil spoke with while at the City Yard.

After talking to Grimm, I drove out to the City Yard and took some photos of my own. The City Yard is wide open and there are no obvious signs telling people not to step foot on this public property, which we as taxpayers pay for. I, like Phil, looked around for the property taken from homeless people, but it was not where they have stored the property in the past.

While I was at the City Yard a reporter from ABC TV ch 30 called and asked if he could interview me about the incident. We did the interview on the City Yard property and I told him that it was outrageous for the police to send Phil a letter from Homeland Security, when all he was doing was helping the homeless. The paranoia that results, when people are asked to spy on each other, results in a witch hunt. The best case scenario is that people just waste their time chasing their tail. But, if people like Phil get put on a terrorist watch list or if people are frightened away from becoming involved to help the homeless because they don’t want the government to suspect them of being a terrorist, then we are all much worse off. If the police are successful in their goal of blanketing the city with video surveillance cameras, Homeland Security has people spying on each other, and there is nothing you can do that is not monitored. . . then were all going to feel a whole lot safer, right? Either that or we will wake up and realize that we are living in a police state.
§Property in the back of a city truck
by Mike Rhodes
Thanks to Phil Connelly and Georgia Williams for the photos.
Add Your Comments
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Fri, May 15, 2009 5:51PM
(posted by) Robert Norse
Tue, May 12, 2009 8:14PM
Sun, May 10, 2009 10:51PM
Sun, May 10, 2009 9:21AM
Fuck "Homeland Security"
Sat, May 9, 2009 7:20PM
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