As Shutdown Order Continues, Things Are Getting Ugly In One CA City

Police in Fresno, California were called to the home of city council president Miguel Arias on Tuesday afternoon, after he reported that a group of people were trying to forcibly enter his apartment, upset over the city’s stay-at-home order that has kept many businesses closed to customers. As it turns out, it was Arias himself who was cited by police after he shoved activists who were walking up the stairs to the apartment.

A video posted to Facebook by user James Hoak shows a group of seven or so people outside Arias’ apartment. They are led by Ben Bergquam, who runs a media Facebook page called Frontline America and organized last week’s Freedom Rally protesting the shelter order.

The video shows Arias pushing Bergquam, microphone in hand, and others who are filming.

Here’s the video, which clearly shows Arias push at least three of the activists.


Posted by James Hoak on Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Arias was cited for three counts of misdemeanor battery after police arrived. None of the activists are facing any charges in the incident.

Later Tuesday evening, a larger group of activists held a protest outside of the home of Mayor Lee Brand, where thankfully cooler heads prevailed.

“A group of 20-25 people protesting the city’s shelter in place orders came to my house this evening,” Brand said in a statement emailed by the city spokesman. “When they arrived, I went out to answer their questions and we had a peaceful discussion on my sidewalk. After 10 minutes, they left and I went back inside. I’m willing to talk with anybody who wants to have a civil conversation about the best way to keep our city safe and healthy.”

That’s a much better way to handle the situation than getting in the face of protesters and shoving them. Like it or not, people have a right to protest, and there’s no indication that the group of a half dozen people were at Arias’s apartment for any other reason than to talk to him about the city’s shelter-in-place order.

Tensions between the reopen supporters and backers of the shelter-in-place order have been rising in recent days. On Sunday, local restaurant The Waffle Shop opened for Mother’s Day despite the city’s order, and a crowd gathered outside the shop in an attempt to prevent code enforcement officers from coming inside. A 73-year old man was arrested after a police officer claims he was assaulted.

But many Waffle Shop patrons dispute the police department’s account of Sunday’s events.

Thomas Miller Jr. said his father was the man detained. The elder Miller, a 73-year-old veteran of the Vietnam War, was trying to support small business, according to the younger Miller, who owns PressBox Sports Grill in north Fresno.

The elder Miller and his wife went to eat at the shop as a protest to the city’s orders to close, but never planned to be caught up in a physical confrontation, the younger Miller said. “They wanted to go say to the owner, ‘Keep up the good fight,’“ he said. “That was their protest.”

Miller said his father never pushed or grabbed the officer, saying his hands were at his sides during the confrontation. “It was all the officer’s movements that made everything happen,” he said.

Bodycam footage obtained by the Fresno Bee appears to corroborate Miller’s side of the story. An officer attempts to enter The Waffle Shop, but is blocked by a crowd of about twenty people. The officer tries to push pass Miller, who refuses to move, and then the officer tells Miller that he was just assaulted by him. Miller is led away from the front of the restaurant in handcuffs, accompanied by his wife, who holds on to his arm as the officer detains him.

Fresno police chief Andy Hall said he was “concerned” by the police response to the gathering, and has ordered a review of the officer’s actions.

“As the chief of police, I am concerned over the manner in which this incident was handled as it doesn’t appear to be consistent with our department’s policy concerning demonstrations or the directions I have given officers via a chief’s memorandum for handling enforcement of the Emergency Order. I immediately ordered an Internal Affairs investigation of this incident.”

On Monday, Fresno city council member Garry Bredefeld held a press conference outside The Waffle Shop with owner Ammar Ibrahim, and called the police response the result of “tyrannical policies” by the mayor and city council. Bredefeld has been the only city council member opposed to the city’s shelter-in-place order, but the city council member was also critical of the protestors who showed up at Arias’s doorstep on Tuesday afternoon.

Well, there were apparently crimes committed, but not by any protesters. Instead, it’s the city council president who’s now facing charges.

Mayor Brand and the city council need to take some immediate steps to ratchet down the tensions between the stay-at-home and the reopen camps, and the first thing they should do is start treating city residents like adults. The city has put some unbelievably goofy requirements in place for businesses to reopen, including a limit of one customer per 500 square feet in commercial establishments. As Bredefeld notes, that goes far beyond the recommendations of the CDC, and amounts to a near total ban on the reopening of businesses in the city. People will generally follow rules that make sense. Rules that appear arbitrary and capricious, on the other hand, will generate the kind of pushback that we’ve seen in Fresno over the past few days.