Christian charity is now a crime in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A 90-year-old World War II veteran and two pastors have been arrested and threatened with jail for sharing food with the homeless in a city park.
“One of the police officers said, ‘Drop that plate right now,’ as if I were carrying a weapon,” Arnold Abbott told TV station WPLG. “It’s man’s inhumanity to man is all it is.”
Abbott, 90, and pastors Mark Sims and Dwayne Black were feeding homeless people at Fort Lauderdale Beach when police arrested them. Each of the three now faces up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine for violating a new law city law that makes giving food to homeless people in public illegal.
The three were committing a deliberate act of civil disobedience against the ordinance, which was passed by the city commissioners (Florida’s term for city council) at 3:30 a.m. one morning. The commissioners voted 4-1 on October 22 to ban public feeding and to restrict the homeless to a few parts of town.
Homeless Now an ‘Eyesore’
“We have been feeding the homeless for a long time,” Black, the pastor of Sanctuary Church, told The Guardian. “It is our calling and our duty to not let another human being go hungry. But now it’s a crime to feed a hungry person.”
“The city says that it creates an eyesore; they are saying that human beings being fed is an eyesore,” Black added. “What they are doing is wrong. It lacks all compassion.”
Two days after the law was passed, Abbott, the founder of a non-profit group called Love Thy Neighbor, along with other pastors deliberately violated the law. The three had spoken out against the ordinance at the city commissioners meeting.
“I know that I will be arrested again, and I am prepared for that,” Abbot told Fox News. “I am my brother’s keeper, and what they are doing is just heartless.”
Abbott has been feeding the homeless for years, and he has sued the city over restrictions on feeding in the past. Abbott and his friends plan to file another lawsuit against the latest restriction.
City Wants Homeless Fed Indoors
“The ordinance allows for legal, clean and safe distribution of food to the homeless,” Fort Lauderdale Police Detective DeAnna Greenlaw told Fox News. “For example, if a minister, priest or member of clergy wishes to provide food to the homeless at their establishment (I.E. community hall, church or gathering place) they can do so if the proper facilities, as listed in the ordinance, are in place.”
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Abbott said his group was unable to provide bathroom facilities for diners as the law requires. The law also requires feeding programs to have a permit and not be within 500 feet of homes.
“I have tried to abide by their regulations, but we just are not able to provide a port-a-potty,” Abbott said. “I believe that is the job of the municipality, anyway.”
Charities Under Fire all Over Country
Abbott, Black and Sims were not handcuffed or jailed during the arrest but they were cited and ordered to appear in court. The three are not alone in facing criminal charges for trying to help the homeless; cities all over the country are trying to criminalize charity.
Chico and Debbie Jimenez were arrested in Daytona Beach, Florida, for setting out a meal of chicken patties, macaroni salad and fresh vegetables for the homeless in a public park. Several police officers broke up the meal and gave citations to the Jimenezes and other members of their Word Without Saying a Word Ministry.
Members of the group face fines totaling $2,238. They say they are trying to live by Christ’s words in Matthew 25:40: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
“We are ‘ NOT Criminals ‘ and feeding ‘ Hungry folks ‘ is not a crime,” the group’s Facebook page stated.
The National Coalition for the Homeless reported that 21 cities have restricted food sharing since January 2013. Communities as diverse as Las Vegas; Dayton, Ohio; Los Angeles; Oklahoma City; and Salt Lake City have tried to criminalize food sharing.
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