Caring Citizens Shouldn't Be Arrested for Feeding the Homeless

Jeanne Sager

homeless manYou wouldn't know it with the proliferation of police procedurals on television, but we tend to be a law-abiding bunch in America. It's that sort of thing that makes you proud to be an American, right? That we don't have rioting in the streets ... much? Here's what makes me prouder. Three people from a group called Food Not Bombs were arrested in Orlando last week for feeding the homeless.

Sounds ridiculous, right? Arrested for doing something out of the goodness of one's heart to help their fellow man? Apparently the city has an ordinance that strictly forbids "group feedings" in its public parks. Sounds like a city trying to get rid of its homeless problem by starving them out to me. So how did the Food Not Bombs people respond to the threat of jail?

More of them showed up with food and submitted to being arrested, natch! These are people we're talking about -- hungry people. And a law that didn't sit well with the core beliefs of the group's membership. So they practiced civil disobedience.

As a law-abiding citizen, I can admit they got what was coming to them when they were arrested. They were well aware of the law when they violated it. Breaking the law is breaking the law, period. Right? Ah, if only it were that simple. I'd go back to waving my flag, and eating my apple pie, and singing my anthem, and be a happy American.

Of course it's not that black and white! Remember laws are made by man; they aren't infallible. And to be an American is to make hard choices.

I can see they were fighting a shoddy law, and they felt this was their only way (they'd already gone through a federal court, which gave the city means to restrict Food Not Bombs to two feedings a year for the parks within a two-block radius of City Hall -- TWO, as if homeless people only get hungry twice a year??). I give them credit. I don't know if I would have the chutzpah to stand out there and wait for the police to swoop in; unjust law or not.

That's the rub. Who am I to sit on my high horse and say I can't take the cuffs when someone else is suffering the consequences of the unjust law? What kind of American am I? In this case, of course, the good citizens of Orlando are sitting pretty while the homeless are starving. They're already being punished.

That's what makes it hard to always be a "good" American and abide the law, when I see it hurts someone else. It's easy to know I should follow the speed limit, not kill someone, not break into my neighbor's house, pick up litter. It's hard to fathom how it would be wrong to feed the homeless in this America.

Do you think civil disobedience has its place? What about in this instance? Should these people really be arrested for feeding the homeless?


Image via Beverly & Pack/Flickr

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