Arrested For Feeding The Homeless? For One 90-Year-Old Florida Man, Compassion Is Illegal
Compassion can now get you arrested in Florida, where a 90-year-old man was charged for feeding the homeless. Apparently, crime is such a non-issue in the Sunshine State that the police force can spend its time tracking down old men and stopping them from handing out food. Last weekend, 90-year-old Arnold Abbott was distributing meals on a Fort Lauderdale beach when he was approached by policemen. He faces 60 days in jail and a $500 fine if convicted of his "crime." The moral decay of America, my friends, is going strong. It has nothing to do with gay marriage, and everything to do with laws like this one.
Abbott, the very definition of a Good Samaritan, has been feeding the needy for 23 years. According to local news stations, the activist is inspired by the memory of his late wife, and his two decades of service have been in honor of her life. And when you've got a cause like that as your motivation, no city ordinance that bans public food sharing will stop you. On November 2, Abbott was just 45 minutes and three meals in to his kind deeds when he was apprehended by a couple of police officers. "One of the police officers said, 'Drop that plate right now,' as if I were carrying a weapon," Abbott told ABC News. Seriously, guys, you'd rather drop the food on the ground than let someone hungry enjoy it?
Of course, Abbott wasn't dissuaded by law enforcement officials, and on Wednesday, he was back at his charity work, only to be stopped once again by policemen in a local park. As a result, he's been issued a citation and a court date. Because a 90-year-old man handing out food is the greatest threat to public security in Florida.
It's a public health issue. The experts have all said that if you're going to feed them to get them from breakfast to lunch to dinner, all you're doing is enabling that cycle of homelessness. They don't interact with anyone, they don't receive the aid that they need.
Of course, according to the law, if you have a permit and can provide port-a-potties and hand-washing stations, then you're not an enabler and are in the clear. Is it just me or does this sound an awful lot like the controversial new abortion clinic standards in Texas? Using "public safety" as an excuse to prevent individuals from exercising their rights is really getting old, and quite frankly, incredibly offensive.
In response to Mayor Seiler and the city council's latest piece of legislation, Wikipedia writers have fired back in a particularly vicious editing of his public page. His Wikipedia entry, modified Thursday, is currently listed under the name, "John P. 'No Food for the Homeless' Seiler," and includes the fact that, "In 2014, he supported and defended laws passed criminalizing feeding homeless people in public, in hopes of eliminating the poorer population from his city."
Despite the public outrage that has resulted from such an absurd measure, Mayor Seiler is not backing down. He told WPLG, "Just because of media attention we don't stop enforcing the law. We enforce the laws here in Fort Lauderdale." What he forgot to add was, "No matter how ridiculous they are." In an interview with Florida's Sun-Sentinel, the mayor said, "I'm not satisfied with having a cycle of homeless in the city of Fort Lauderdale. Providing them with a meal and keeping them in that cycle on the street is not productive." You know what else isn't productive? Arresting 90-year-old men.
Abbott, of course, sees right through the absurdity of the whole situation, and has noted that this "cycle" of homelessness certainly isn't made worse by handing out food. Said Abbott, "These are the poorest of the poor. They have nothing. They don't have a roof over their head. Who can turn them away?"
Not Abbott, who has told news stations that he still plans on making his weekly rounds in Florida parks and beaches regardless of the legal repercussions. On Sunday, Abbott will be making an appearance at a local church, where he has been invited to oversee a massive feed of about 200 homeless people. This, Abbott believes, will not draw any police attention, as it will be conducted on private, church property. Of course, whether or not it meets the city's standards of an "appropriate, organized, clean and healthy manner" is yet to be seen.
Shockingly, Fort Lauderdale, Florida is one of over 30 cities that have passed similar laws banning food distribution. This represents a 47 percent increase in cities with such legislation since 2010. But people like Abbott are no strangers to the political circus surrounding the homeless — in 1999, the then 75-year-old successfully sued Fort Lauderdale for forbidding him from feeding the homeless, and this ordeal feels a lot like a bad rerun. He told CNN, "I'm not afraid of jail. I'm not looking to go, but if I have to, I will."