A third group of people now involved in the weekly Tower Theater protests say they were forced into an unsafe situation last Sunday when they were told to move from outside the theater to a corner across the street.
The protests ended in five arrests for the group led by Fresno homeless advocate Dez Martinez. She began her protest three weeks ago in front of the Tower Theatre, where Adventure Church has been operating weekly church services. She said the church mistreated and kicked out an unhoused individual who was trying to attend services.
Sunday’s protest was the largest Martinez had staged in front of the theater yet. She and her supporters showed up as early as 5 a.m., the same time that Fresno police had arrived.
“When we showed up, there were at least 8 officers already there,” Martinez said.
A Fresno Police Department spokesperson, Lt. Bill Dooley, said the department staffed the protest with extra officers, 17 total, anticipating increased tensions among different groups. Martinez says her group started setting up tents on the sidewalk in front of the theater as part of their demonstration, but were approached by police.
“They were told that I was not allowed to use my tents and to remove them,” she said.
Dooley said the placement of the tents was potentially blocking the sidewalk and a cause for concern.
“The municipal code here in the city of Fresno, most cities, allow for folks to protest, but we get to kind of designate the time, place and manner, so it's not negatively impacting or injuring anybody else that's in the community,” Dooley said.
Martinez and her group were asked to move across the street. They refused and police arrested four of the protesters, who were cited for violating the municipal code.
The Save The Tower Demonstration Committee, which has staged ongoing protests against the conservative Adventure Church operating in the theatre, was in support of the homeless advocates.
“They were demonstrating peaceably, they were not causing any public nuisance, they were simply assembled on a public sidewalk as is their right,” said spokesperson Jaguar Bennett.
Martinez said she was hesitant to move to their designated corner because she felt unsafe being close to the counter protesters staged across the street from them. Martinez said counter protesters, who included members of the Proud Boys, were allowed to walk through her protest area, which forced them to interact with hostile members.
“They would walk over to our block, walk through us, brushing us with their bodies because it was so crowded right there. It's like you had to squeeze through everybody in order to get by,” Martinez said.
Martinez said the repeated interactions with counter protesters created agitation and the fifth arrest of a homeless activist. Police said a woman in her 30s kicked a counter protester and refused to cooperate with officers.
“As the officers went to arrest, video captured shows her struggling with the officers and actually spitting at an officer,” Dooley said.
Martinez said the woman was in pain while she was being handcuffed. She said the police used tremendous force to subdue her. Dooley said that’s something police will now investigate.
“If a legal arrest is taking place, if you resist, the officers do have the authority to escalate. We don't want to but we're able to if necessary. So the investigation into the use of force will be reviewed, there will be a determination as to whether it was within policy or not,” Dooley said.
The woman was charged with two counts of misdemeanor battery and resisting arrest. Dooley did not say how officers expect to handle patrols for protests this coming weekend.