9 Volunteers 'Arrested' for Feeding Homeless in Calif. Park, Charged With Misdemeanors
About nine volunteers, including a female minor, were "arrested" in El Cajon, California, on Sunday afternoon simply because they were feeding the homeless and are now facing misdemeanor charges.
The San Diego Tribune reports that the arrests came at around 3:40 p.m. during an event at Wells Park organized by an organization called "Break the Ban," a group that was formed in response to a local law banning anyone from sharing food on city property.
The El Cajon city council passed an ordinance last October banning the distribution of food on public property following a Hepatitis A outbreak. Although city officials claim that the ordinance was passed for safety reasons, critics claim that the law discriminates against the homeless community.
Break the Ban organized the event on Sunday to hand out food and clothing items to homeless citizens in Wells Park. The event was not only designed to help those in need but as a measure to give weight to possible legal action against the ordinance.
"It was absolutely necessary to break this law until they were willing to enforce it, and, now that they have, we will continue this fight in court," Shane Parmely, an organizer of the event, told the San Diego Tribune.
The event was attended by over 40 people, although many were there for support and were not engaging in the act of civil disobedience.
According to the San Diego Tribune, a police officer initially warned the crowd that sharing food on the park property was against the law and warned them that if they continued to do so they would be arrested.
All the participants who were handing out food, including a 14-year-old girl, were "arrested," organizers say. However, no one was placed in handcuffs and none of the participants were taken to jail.
Parmely shared a video on Facebook of police writing up citations.
"El Cajon PD arresting people, including a child, for sharing food with homeless residents," Parmely wrote in his post. "To clarify: ECPD said they were arresting us for misdemeanors and that these pieces of paper were our notice of arrest and agreement to appear in court. They refused to take us."
According to NBC San Diego, a total of nine people were given misdemeanor citations and will be summoned to appear in court.
The 14-year-old girl who was written up for the misdemeanor is Ever Parmely.
"I was passing out food and this guy was like can you step aside please," she told NBC San Diego.
Charles Marks, who was also written up for handing out food, clarified that he believes what he received was merely a "citation."
"I've been given a court date under the impression this represents being arrested on a misdemeanor, but it's just a citation," he told NBC San Diego.
Organizer Mark Lane told the San Diego Tribune that Break the Ban will continue to hold events to feed homeless. The group's next event is planned for Jan. 27 and will again be at Wells Park. The group also partners with another organization called "Food Not Bombs" to host feeding events.
"Our goal it to get the ban overturned and sit down and figure out how to humanely deal with something that's not going away," Lane explained.
Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter asking the city council to reconsider the ordinance.
"By prohibiting food sharing only when done for 'charitable purposes,' El Cajon is regulating food sharing because of its expressive content, punishing only those who share food to express their religious or political beliefs in ministry or charity but not those who share food for other purposes," David Loy, legal director for the ACLU of San Diego, said in a statement. "If charitable appeals for funds are within the protection of the First Amendment, the same is true for charitable giving, whether of money or food."
El Cajon isn't the only California city accused of telling its residents to stop feeding the homeless.
In November, it was reported that Malibu United Methodist Church was asked by city officials to stop its food service ministry, which feeds homeless once a week.