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Porchfest Victims Use Fresno Council Meeting to Demand That DA File Hate Crime Charges
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By David Taub, Senior Reporter
Published 3 weeks ago on
May 23, 2024

Porchfest victims Lana (left) and Zahra Al spoke about their attack at the May 23, 2024, Fresno City Council meeting. (GV Wire/David Taub)

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The victims of the Porchfest attack want the district attorney to pursue hate crime charges against their alleged assailant.

Zahra Al, Lana and Mel (the latter two did not want to provide their last names) and about 20 community supporters attended Thursday’s Fresno City Council meeting. Several spoke during public comment.

Video shot by a witness of the April 27 incident showed Francisco Samaniego engaged in a physical altercation with the women. He allegedly made racial slurs against Arabs and Palestinians. The victims operated a pro-Palestinian booth at Porchfest, a Tower District neighborhood festival.

However, Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp did not charge Samaniego with hate crimes. She said at the time that Samaniego spoke ill of Gaza’s ruling government, Hamas, which is not a protected group.

Samaniego pleaded not guilty and returns to court on June 18 for a pre-preliminary hearing.

Alleged Porchfest victims Lana (left) and Mel console each other at the Thursday, May 23, 2024, Fresno City Council meeting (GV Wire/David Taub)

Victims Give Emotional Statements

The victims and their supporters called on Smittcamp to pursue hate crime charges. They also expressed disappointment in the city council for not standing up for them stronger.

Lana was the first of the three to speak to the city council.

“We are seeking and still awaiting justice,” Lana told the city council.

Lana said she is suffering from “physical, emotional, and mental distress.”

“I find myself waking up in panic, as my mind so desperately searches for answers as to why this happened, as if I didn’t know,” Lana said.

Al then spoke, with her family by her side. She revealed she is pregnant, and that Samaniego allegedly attacked her 6-year old son as well.

I’m here to speak the truth. I’m not afraid. I will not back down,” Al said. “It was a hate crime, through and through.”

Al’s husband claimed his wife almost miscarried. He talked about his children witnessing the attack.

“These innocent children, full of life and trust, were subject to in immeasurable terror and pain. They were caught in the crossfire of hatred. Their safety and innocence brutally violated … my wife and our unborn child along with our two boys. We’re all victims,” he said.

Mel nearly broke down speaking.

“I am still distraught and frustrated with the decision of the DA. Nobody has even reached out to speak to us,” Mel said.

Smittcamp’s office replied.

“There have not been any requests made to meet with DA Smittcamp or anyone with our office. However, as is standard procedure once a case has been filed, the assigned prosecutor has been in communication with the victims and their attorney, to discuss the case and explain the steps of the legal process,” a department spokesperson said.

 

Zahra Al (at microphone) and her family, address the Fresno City Council on May 23, 2024. She spoke about the attack at Porchfest. (GV Wire/David Taub)

Other City Council Action …

— Councilmember Mike Karbassi missed the meeting. He said he was out of town, and his flight back was cancelled. The city council rescheduled a ceremonial presentation he co-sponsored — for Jewish American Heritage Month — to a future date.

— The council approved 6-0 on the consent calendar to start a process to possibly construct an affordable housing unit and parking garage in the lot across the street from Chukchansi Park. The ideas are preliminary, city administration told Politics 101 previously.

— A former firehouse and police station no longer used by the city could be sold. The council approved 6-0 to declare a property in west Fresno as surplus property. The boarded-up and window-shattered property has been empty for four years.

— The council acknowledged Gov. Gavin Newsom’s appointment of chief assistant city attorney Raj Singh Badhesha as a Fresno County Superior Court judge. City Council President Annalisa Perea said a more formal recognition will take place soon.

— In a time of a $47 million shortfall, the council approved hiring a secretary. The new position pays more than $77,000 a year, but the city documents said it would not require additional funding. The vote was 6-0 during consent calendar.

Raj Singh Badhesha will soon leave the Fresno City Attorney’s Office for the Fresno County Superior Court bench. (GV Wire/David Taub)

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David Taub,
Senior Reporter
Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email

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