7 activists arrested in Tampa for feeding the homeless without a permit
Activists gathered in a park in Tampa to feed the homeless. But their volunteer act of kindness was cut short by police, who arrested several of them for distributing food without a permit.
Police spokesman Steve Hegarty says some 30 to 40 people with signs that read "Food not Bombs" gathered in Gaslight Park Saturday afternoon to distribute food. He says officers explained that city ordinances prohibit food distribution without proper permitting.
The officers offered alternatives to distribute food in another location but they continued setting up tables. Hegarty says they were told they'd be arrested if they continued distributing food. Seven people refused to stop and were arrested.
They were given notices to appear in court on misdemeanor charges.
Hegarty says officers told the group last week they'd need a permit but they chose to violate a city ordinance.
The authorities have a point. Unless one is trained in the proper handling and storage of food, there is a danger in distributing it. Some foods must be handled carefully, or there is a risk of deadly diseases. That's why most restaurant employees must complete a course in food safety.
But to arrest people trying to make a difference? This seems excessive, even if the activists wanted to get arrested to make a point. And authorities have used the ordinance to shut down children's lemonade stands and other efforts by kids to make a few bucks. There is an element of overkill in ordinances that look to protect the public from consuming spoiled or tainted food.
Clearly, these ordinances must be redrawn to reflect reality. Perhaps the city can offer guidelines on what food is permissible to serve to the homeless. Rather than unbending definitions of what activities require a permit, food safety authorities may want to consider education rather than legal action against those who for personal or religious reasons want to feed the hungry.