Saturday, September 29, 2007

Statement by West Palm Food Not Bombs

The statement below was issued by West Palm Food Not Bombs in response to the city's passage of an anti-homeless food sharing ordinance on Sept. 24.


West Palm Beach Food Not Bombs is a volunteer group of concerned citizens dedicated to helping feed those in need. We believe that food should be a right and not a privilege. We stand in outright opposition to the new ordinance banning food distribution at the parks in downtown West Palm Beach. We were willing to cooperate in finding a solution amenable to all, but with the commission refusing to show a similar interest, we no longer feel cooperation is possible.

We feel the ordinance violates our constitutional rights and those of the homeless population here in West Palm. The only other locations offered us by the city are churches and most are too far away to be practical. While we appreciate and respect the charitable work done by local religious groups, Food Not Bombs is a secular group that seeks to help the poor and defend their human rights, so we do not see a religious venue as an acceptable option. Religious affiliation should not be a prerequisite for helping others. Furthermore, none of the other parks in the downtown vicinity are equipped with restrooms, drinking fountains, tables or chairs.

[City] Commissioner Robinson spoke about flexibility and the need to compromise. The City Commission was unreceptive to any suggestions for compromise and showed zero flexibility in regards to the ordinance. Therefore it is now upon us to be flexible and mold to their desires. Even though Mayor Frankel emphasized the fact that she and the city are not heartless and truly are compassionate, it is impossible to believe her when in the same hearing that she voted to outlaw feeding the homeless she shared her desire to ban food distribution in all West Palm Beach parks, all the while staring directly at the homeless people sitting in the front row. Therefore it became clear to us that accommodating this new ordinance would only lead to us having to do the same at the next location. Commissioner Mitchell agreed, saying in regards to changing our food sharing location to another park, "if we did that, then we would just be hearing from another group that we moved it in front of."

Furthermore, we see absolutely no reason as to why we should sacrifice our constitutional rights and those of the homeless/ This is not about getting attention and finding a way to cause problems as Mayor Frankel suggested. The Mayor started this fight and put us in the situation we are in, forcing us to either give away our rights or stand and protect them. In his essay Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau said, "Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the only true place for a just man is also a prison." If they intend to put us in jail for feeding the indigent, then so be it. We shall go proudly, knowing that ours is the right side of justice and equality.

This entire charade of legality does nothing to solve the problems in downtown. Never was any proof, beyond discriminatory speculation, given that the problems spoken of had anything to do with our sharing food at the Centennial Fountain Park in downtown. The fact is all of those issues already have laws on the books to address them. If there is anyone to blame, it should be negligent law enforcement failing to address these infractions of the law. Blaming all of the problems on the homeless is ridiculous.

Most criminal activity is not from the homeless population. The homeless are afraid for their lives and exist constantly on guard. The people that are victimized and suffering the most are not the condo owners and business operators nor the downtown patrons -- it is the people forced to live out in the streets. The homeless get robbed all the time, they get beaten and raped, pushed aside, spat on, and disrespected, not to mention undermined by the city officials who should be trying to help them, not take away their rights and resources. Ronald Reagan said, "Protecting the rights of the least individual among us is basically the only excuse the government has for existing."

This ordinance is a complete mockery of the justice system and of the Constitution. As such, when deciding what course of action to take from here, only one option began to resoundingly stand out from the others. If we are to cede to their discriminatory ordinance now, it will be that much easier for them to criminalize and ban other activities and locations, slowly removing all of our rights and all of the resources the homeless have for assistance. The Fourteenth Amendment states:

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

In addition, the First Amendment grants all of us freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of expression. We cannot turn our backs on our rights and those of our brothers and sisters. If we allow this to continue, there is no telling where it will stop.

To abandon the needs of the most impoverished is unacceptable and outrageous. We are furious with the mayor's stance and do not intend to give up our civil liberties so easily. We choose to stay at the library and fight this absurd ordinance because someone must, or else we will all slowly lose our rights one by one. It must end somewhere. It shouldn't go any further. We say it must end here. We refuse to be flexible with our rights. We refuse to compromise justice. We must unite against this grave injustice if we care at all about liberty and the rights of humanity.

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