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Food arrests in US

July 07 2011
Seven people could face imprisonment in the US for feeding the homeless


Seven people could face imprisonment in the US for feeding the homeless.

The activists were arrested after handing out free food in a park in Orlando, Florida, which is in breach of a city ordinance. If convicted, they could be jailed for 60 days and face a $500 fine. Those arrested were Steve Willis, Dylan Howeller, Noelle Bivens, Brock Monroe, Jonathan ‘Keith’ McHenry (co-founder of Food Not Bombs), Ben Markeson and Jessica Cross.

Police caught them serving free vegan food for breakfast in a park as part of their anti-poverty group Orlando Food Not Bombs. They have been released on bail and given a trespass warning. But Mr Markeson said Food Not Bombs would continue to feed those in need, adding: “I don’t know why they're so threatened by people ladling out food”.

A spokesperson for the Orlando police said they were free to feed homeless people in other parts of the city, but not in the park because of permit restrictions. Lieutenant Barb Jones said: “This is just a group that has decided that they want to be able to feed no matter what the city has done.

“These are misdemeanours, as drinking alcohol in the park is a violation. There are a lot of things you can't do in city parks”.

In July 2006, the Orlando City Council passed an ordinance limiting any group that holds a food sharing-event that attracts 25 or more people (including those serving the food) to two permitted events in each of the city’s 18 parks a year.

The seemingly draconian policy is not dissimilar to Westminster Council’s plans to ban charities from carrying out soup runs. The Conservative-run council is considering criminalising free food hand-outs for the homeless, claiming it causes litter problems and creates a disturbance in one of London’s most affluent areas. They say the seven soup runs each night feed around 150 people, which make it a ‘no-go area’ for residents and businesses. Food Not Bombs is well known for passing out free vegetarian and vegan food to people at events, regardless of whether they are homeless. The group is also known for anti-war demonstrations and running seminars on poverty issues and, according to their website, they have been distributing free food every Wednesday since January 2005, with breakfast on Mondays added in spring 2008.