On January 23, an anti-mask protest outside of Sprouts Farmers Market in Riverpark caused a temporary closure to the store.
The protest began at Total Wine and More. The group redirected to Sprouts. When Fresno police officers arrived, Benjamin Martin, who led the anti-mask group was detained. He was questioned and released at the scene.
Martin is a real estate agent who operates in the Fresno/Clovis area. He is also the president of the Coalition for Individual Liberties. The group claims to have no political affiliation and are merely expressing their constitutional rights.
Their goal is to educate business managers that customers have the right to be accommodated due to a penal code under federal law regardless if they wear a mask or not.
The coalition has over 2,000 members on Facebook.
On January 25, Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer held a press conference on Facebook live addressing the protest.
“We have a group of individuals who believe that they are exercising their right to the constitution to go into a business and protest,” said Mayor Dyer, “However, they take it a step further and without wearing a mask which is required by the business–Not only are they exposing employees to certain risk, but also customers.”
The mayor also stated if a person not wearing a mask refuses to leave a place of business where a mask policy is in place, they are violating the law. They can be arrested for trespassing.
Assembling is allowed within the perimeters of the law. Dyer suggested protests be held in parking lots in order to avoid confrontation with customers or the opposition.
Martin went on Facebook live to respond to Mayor Dyer’s message, stating that the mayor was misinformed by the Fresno Chief of Police, Paco Balderramma.
“First off, Jerry Dyer, I called you a liar earlier and I wanna make sure you know, I apologize. I recognized you were given misinformation,” said Martin.
Martin said he hopes to talk to the mayor in order to clear things up.
“You may not believe me because a lot of you out there choose to think that we are some sort of politically affiliated organization. We are a group that stands up for your rights under the constitution and federal law,” said Martin.
On January 26, Police Chief Balderramma also addressed the protest on Facebook Live.
He stated people have the right to protest, assemble, and have freedom of speech. However, they cannot block the entryways of businesses or intimidate people.
Prior to the Facebook live stream, Balderramma conversed with Martin asking him not to take actions that would require Fresno Police to respond at future events.
“We were focused on the protest instead of being out in the City of Fresno, proactively enforcing the law and trying to reduce violent crimes,” said Chief Balderrama.