In a world where people behead other people, where some go out of their way to hurt others, be it intentionally knocking into them on a city sidewalk, bullying them online or shooting them because they look different or have better clothes than you, a news story out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., might make me lose faith in all humanity once and for all.
Fort Lauderdale police charged two pastors and a 90-year-old man for feeding the homeless in public.
I’ll say it again: Police charged two pastors and a 90-year-old man for feeding the homeless in public.
Since when is charity — and caring, which is truly a rarity these days — a crime? Well, in Fort Lauderdale, it seems since Friday, when a new city ordinance banned public food sharing. Of all the things a city can ban, helping out your fellow man or woman is what you go with? As if we needed further proof that Florida needs to be voted off the island …
Arnold Abbott, a 90-year-old advocate for the homeless who helms the nonprofit group Love Thy Neighbor, Inc., has been feeding Fort Lauderdale’s less-fortunate for more than 20 years. He was the first person charged by police under this new law, and charges against two Christian pastors — Dwayne Black of The Sanctuary Church in Fort Lauderdale and Mark Sims of St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Coral Springs — soon followed. These three, kindhearted outlaws are facing a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail.
“One of the police officers said, ‘Drop that plate right now,’ as if I were carrying a weapon,” Abbott told Local 10 News. “It’s man’s inhumanity to man is all it is.”
Abbot is a repeat offender of this most heinous crime. Back in 1999, the city tried to ban him from doling out food to the homeless on Fort Lauderdale Beach, and Abbot quickly filed — and won — a lawsuit. Now, he’s prepared to go the same route.
“I’m going to have to go to court again and sue the city of Fort Lauderdale — a beautiful city,” he said. “These are the poorest of the poor, they have nothing, they don’t have a roof over their heads. How do you turn them away?”
Abbot, for one, won’t, and he planned to be right back on the beach Wednesday evening, despite the good possibility that he’d rack up another charge.
“I don’t do things to purposefully aggravate the situation,” said Abbott. “I’m trying to work with the city. Any human has the right to help his fellow man.”
And that’s a right the city of Fort Lauderdale aims to take away with this ludicrous ordinance. One of the stipulations of this new law banning the feeding of the homeless in public — which almost sounds as if the city is likening the homeless to animals in a zoo or something, doesn’t it? — is that those helping the homeless in this way must have a state-certified food manager in attendance, and they must supply portable bathrooms.
This ordinance came on the heels of other recently passed laws that ban the storage of personal belongings in public and going to the bathroom in public. OK, as someone who lives in New York, those two ordinances I can understand. I’ve heard that you’re not truly a New Yorker until you’ve almost been pissed on by a homeless person, as I almost was while waiting for a train last year.
Additionally, residents have to sidestep homeless persons’ belongings on the subway platforms or sidewalks daily, and, yes, it’s heartbreakingly sad, but there surely are safety and health issues for both the homeless and non-homeless in these two situations, so I can’t fault Fort Lauderdale for trying to keep public bodily functions and possession storage to a minimum within the city, because, let’s face it: Homeless or not, keep your urine to yourself.
But the simple, unselfish task of feeding the homeless? That’s not the action to pull rank on.
“Just because of media attention we don’t stop enforcing the law,” Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler told Local 10 News Friday. “We enforce the laws here in Fort Lauderdale.”
It sounds to me like Seiler and company need to enforce their own common human decency more than anything.