Monday, October 8, 2007

Coverage of Eric Montanez's trial, Ladle Fest Day 1

Lake Eola Ladle Fest and Eric Montanez's trial were covered by Channels 2, 6, 9 and 13, plus two Spanish-language TV channels, WMFE-FM (90.7, public radio) and the Orlando Sentinel. Check out the Ladle Fest website: On Day 1 of Ladle Fest, Orlando Food Not Bombs shared with an aggregate of least 200 people during its three food sharings. The police presence was minimal. About 20-25 people participated in the post-breakfast march from Lake Eola Park to the Orange County Courthouse to show solidarity with Eric. They chanted and held signs and the OFNB banner. Breakfast consisted of banana pancakes with vegan margarine and maple syrup, sliced oranges and cantalopes, and bagels; lunch included spaghetti with tomato sauce and vegan veggie burritos; and dinner consisted of vegan veggie soup with rice, apple crisp and sliced oranges.

Man Testifies In Own Defense During Homeless Feeding Trial

POSTED: 6:19 pm EDT October 8, 2007
UPDATED: 6:27 pm EDT October 8, 2007

ORLANDO, Fla. -- There was testimony Monday from the first man ever charged for feeding the homeless in Orlando. The city has an ordinance banning the feeding of more than 25 people in one area.

Eric Montanez took the stand in his own defense Monday afternoon. He said he understood what he was being charged with, but when asked why he feeds the homeless he simply said it's because people are hungry.

Monday, before he even went to court, Montanez was doing the very thing he's in trouble for, feeding the homeless at Lake Eola Park. He was the first person arrested for the crime in April and the first to go to trial.

The city banned the feedings because of complaints from people being uncomfortable with the large gatherings of homeless. The city has also called it a public safety issue.

Monday in court, prosecutors told jurors, no matter how anyone feels about the law, it is the law and Montanez broke it. Then they called police officers to the stand to testify they saw Montanez break the law.

The defense argues Montanez was just sharing his food. When he took the stand in his own defense, he explained why he fed the homeless, but also took the opportunity to criticize city leaders for passing the law.

"Well, people are hungry in this city and this city passes countless ordinances and takes measures to demonize homeless people and the poor," he said.

Montanez was the last witness of the day and likely the last witness of the trial. He'll be cross-examined Tuesday, there will be closing arguments and then likely it will go to the jury.

Man's Trial Over Feeding Homeless Begins
City Says Charity Can't Serve More Than 25 People At One Time

POSTED: 1:07 pm EDT October 8, 2007
UPDATED: 3:25 pm EDT October 8, 2007

ORLANDO, Fla. -- A jury was seated and opening statements were set to begin on Monday in the trial of a man who was arrested for feeding homeless people in Orlando.

Eric Montanez was arrested several months ago on suspicion of serving more than 25 homeless people, which Orlando police said violates a city ordinance forbidding large group feedings.

The ordinance states that a charity can feed up to 25 people at a time.

Montanez, the first person to be arrested under the ordinance, said he doesn't regret it.

"This is not about me. This is not about an iconic figure. This is about hunger and the homeless," Montanez said. "The people are hungry. That's the honest-to-God truth."

Several charities joined Montanez on Monday morning to feed a large crowd of homeless people in what they said was the only way to legally continue to feed crowds of hungry people.

"Getting a hot meal is superb. It gives me energy to do what I got to do everyday," Ronald Pratt said.

"I think it's kind of sad for somebody to go to jail for trying to help other people," Rick Gaston said.

"The city, time and time again, is denying people, and they're giving nothing back," Montanez said.

If convicted, Montanez could face a maximum of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Group Protests Member's Arrest
Food Not Bombs Feeds The Homeless Despite Bans

POSTED: 12:43 pm EDT October 8, 2007
UPDATED: 4:32 pm EDT October 8, 2007

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The local chapter of Food Not Bombs protested the arrest of one of its members in Orlando on Monday.

They said Eric Montanez is going on trial for feeding the hungry.

[Orlando] Food Not Bombs protested by doing exactly what an ordinance stated they should not do; they gathered the homeless in a public area and fed them.

The group fed about 100 people breakfast at Lake Eola Monday morning. Some of the homeless recipients said they appreciate the group's gesture and oppose a law that they said makes being nice illegal.

"What harm is it in giving something to somebody because you care?" breakfast attendee Stuart Simpson said. "What is the motive for the arrest? He gave something to somebody that you despise. That's what I'm seeing. I'm seeing a city that despises the fact that they have homeless people living within their area. They look at us as criminals, people that cause mischief. Not saying that there are some that do cause criminal mischief, but not everybody that's homeless is a criminal."

During the lunch break of his trial, Montanez was at Lake Eola feeding the homeless lunch, exactly what got him arrested in the first place.

“Out of the blue, without saying there was any change in interpretation, they arrested me,” Montanez said.

Orlando's ordinance does not allow any one group to feed more than 24 people in a public park.

The intent of the ordinance is for the park to be a place where people to come and go, not to become a home where people can eat, sleep and never leave.

Many see it as an attack on homelessness.

Another homeless man, Wayne Robinson, said he believes that groups like Food Not Bombs are helping the homeless get back on their feet.

"I think it's a lesson, and I think more people should be willing to step forward and do these things and try to help get us off these streets and show us a better way of life," Robinson said. "For me, it is showing that if we continuously care about each other and stretch our hand out to each other, and brothers and sisters, especially spiritual beings as we so call ourselves, that the society and the world will be a better place as a whole."

Officers from the Orlando Police Department also attended the protest. Officials said they're aware of the protest and point that Food Not Bombs is trying to make, but they would not say what they intend to do about the protest other than that they would continue with the routine patrol of the area and enforce the law.

No arrests were made during breakfast or lunch on Monday.

Food Not Bombs will continue to serve three meals a day for the next three days to emphasize their point on how unfair they believe the ordinance to be.

Ladle Fest Protests Ban Against Feeding Homeless
Monday, October 08, 2007 1:09:37 PM

Feeding the homeless has been a controversial topic in Orlando for months. On Monday, the group [Orlando] Food Not Bombs is rallying in Lake Eola to show support for one of their own and protest the ordinance that limits where and how often homeless feedings can take place.

"It's anti-homeless, inhumane and unconstitutional in our opinion, and according to our lawyer's opinion," said Ben Markeson, of Food Not Bombs.

Eric Montanez, 22, was the first person to be arrested under the new city rules. His trial is set to begin Monday.

As day broke Monday, people started to gather in the picnic area of Lake Eola for an event called Ladle Fest.

The ordinance against feeding the homeless was passed in summer of 2006. Many people called the ordinance anti-homeless and said the city was trying to get rid of the homeless.

"We're hoping to make a statement about the need in our community for food for homeless and low-income people and are also hoping to tell people that compassion shouldn't be criminalized, concern for the less fortunate shouldn't be criminalized and people who want to help people in the community should be able to do so without hindrance," Markeson said.

Food Not Bombs said it would feed people breakfast, lunch and dinner at Lake Eola through Wednesday. The group said it wanted to make the point that it would not stand by as people are prosecuted for a compassionate act.

Group Intentionally Violating City Ordinance During "Ladle Fest"

POSTED: 7:32 am EDT October 8, 2007
UPDATED: 5:31 pm EDT October 8, 2007

ORLANDO, Fla. -- A controversial city ordinance has led to a number of protests and now a trial. An Orlando man is the first person to face a jury for feeding the homeless.

It's the first trial of its kind. A man is facing a judge and jury for violating Orlando's ban on feeding the homeless. Eric Montanez, 22, was caught feeding a group in Lake Eola Park earlier this year. The prosecution told Eyewitness News their case rests on video taken of Montanez feeding the homeless, breaking Orlando's feeding ban.

"There are a lot better things for law enforcement to be doing in this town, but this was an outrage," said George Crossley of the ACLU.

Montanez and a small group of supporters marched from Lake Eola Park to the Orange County on Monday morning.

"We're ready to take this on," Montanez said.

Montanez and the group he's involved with, Food Not Bombs, returned to Lake Eola just after sunrise to once again violate the ordinance that has him on trial. Food Not Bombs volunteers served breakfast to about 100 Montanez supporters, most of them homeless. They will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner during what they're calling a three-day "ladle fest," not a protest.

"Me personally, I think that's discriminating for one," said Lamont Robinson, a homeless man.

"We're out here trying to survive from day to day life and this gentleman over here is helping us," said Melvin Moore, a homeless man.

In April, Montanez was arrested for violating the city ordinance that bans mass feeding in one area. His attorney will argue that the law is a violation of civil rights and say Montanez did nothing wrong, because every feeding that he participated in was done at a public park.

"The law itself should be illegal. Feeding people should not be criminalized. Being poor should not be criminalized," Montanez said.

The group is hoping to pressure city leaders into axing the ordinance that they believe is a violation of their civil rights, but the city has made no mention of such consideration being in their plans.

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