Monday, February 23, 2015

2 Videos of Police Brutality Surface in 1 Day

The local news tonight broadcast 2 citizen videos of police assaulting and arresting people, just blocks away from one another in downtown Ft Lauderdale.

The first incident involved FLPD Officer Victor Ramirez. Ramirez assaults and arrests homeless man Bruce Laclair, according to the victim, for trying to use the bathroom at Broward Central Terminal on Sunday. BCT's public bathroom is one of the few restrooms available to homeless people in downtown Fort Lauderdale, and unfortunately the profiling and trespassing of homeless people is all too common in these areas.

The 2nd, and perhaps even more disturbing, video, is Dasyl Rios being dragged through Broward County Courthouse, just a few blocks South of BCT, on Monday. Rios was being sent back to jail for violating probation and when she did not cooperate with BSO deputies, she was dragged by a pair of ankle cuffs into a holding area.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Although this kind of casual brutality is often described by poor and needy people who live and congregate in downtown, and are processed through the jail and court system nearby, it is somewhat rare for 2 shocking instances to be on display in one day. And yet, this is Fort Lauderdale.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sharing Ban Limbo

The City's 45 day stay of enforcement has expired, and according to latest communications with the City, there is still no intent to enforce. The City's sharing ban seems to be in a self-imposed limbo while mediation between the City & Love Thy Neighbor takes place. The sharing ban has not been enforced for about 10 weeks now.

Sharing Ban Back At Commission
Minor zoning changes to the sharing ban meant that the ordinance was brought before another hearing at City Hall on Tuesday. Several people still came to speak in opposition to the law, and activists staged an impromptu sharing outside as the meeting began. 

The City cut public comment times short and even moved agenda items around to ensure the sharing ban was heard dead last. Despite these attempts to stifle participation, the discussion of the sharing ban occurred a solid 4 or 5 hours earlier than the time of night that the original law was discussed during. After public comment, Commissioner Trantalis spent another 15 minutes or so criticizing the other commissioners' support of the law. The current revisions will be discussed again on March 3rd, and further revisions to the law are expected later still.

The Mayor and other Commissioners made a continued point of foisting blame for the lack of sharing sites in the City on Broward County government. Members of the DDA & Chamber of Commerce made a similar point while avoiding any responsibility for creating the sharing ban recently when they came to visit Food Not Bombs' weekly downtown business protest. 

Occurring every Wednesday night in front of YOLO on Las Olas, February 11th's protest was bit different in that Tim Petrillo, the owner of YOLO, came out to greet the protest. The following week, a large police presence watched the demonstration from outside the Las Olas Starbucks. 

As a continued effort to show those responsible for the sharing ban the error of their ways. we'll close by repeating Reverend Gail Tapscott's open invite given to Ft Lauderdale City Commission officials on Tuesday. We welcome everyone to come March 7th to the Unitarian Universality Church's screening of "Uncharted" to learn a little bit about the truth behind homelessness.  

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Movie Night for Housing Rights, March 7th

Uncharted: The Truth Behind Homelessness is a recently filmed documentary about a struggle between homeless people, homeless advocates, and government homeless services in Indianapolis. On March 7th at 5 pm, The Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Lauderdale will be hosting a free filming of the screening. After the screening, the filmmaker is going to join via video conference and everyone can have a discussion along with some refreshments. 

As criminal trials for sharing food and dates for lawsuits against the City proceed for many of the "food sharing outlaws," it's worth asking a few questions about "the truth behind homelessness." One of the questions most prevalent here and in the film's subject city of Indianapolis is, why is conflict between homeless people and government services for  the homeless so commonplace? And how are these conflicts ever actually resolved in a way that benefits those that are suffering?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Sharing Ban Revisited, Tuesday Feb 17th

The City's agenda for next Tuesday's Commission meeting brings the sharing ban back to public hearing. This will be the first "homeless hate law" the City has discussed at their meetings since they originally passed the sharing ban back in October.

Despite a deluge of public comment, the City is not re-visiting the sharing ban in order  to make major changes to it. In fact it seems that the only amendment they are considering is to add a  few extra blocks to the "sharing zones" in the area of Flagler Village where it will be considered permissible to share food (and only for those in total compliance with the many "health and safety" regulations imposed on outdoor food sharings.)

3 months after enforcement of the sharing ban made Fort Lauderdale an international laughingstock, the City has made no real suggestions or compromises to allow food aid  to legally continue downtown.

5 lawsuits continue to challenge the "Unified Land Regulations" on "Outdoor Food Distribution Centers." Ft Lauderdale City Commissions  themselves have gotten to  be pretty rowdy lately; the last meeting was the 2nd time within 3 months where someone protesting City policy was arrested for disrupting the City Commission.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Anti-Homeless Incumbents Re-Elected... Fight For Downtown Continues

Mayor Seiler and temporary appointment Phil McKinzie easily won their election challenges Tuesday, with only 7% of Fort Lauderdale's eligible voters participating. It would appear that the City's "Midnight Monarchy" will continue regardless of its unpopular attacks on equality and human rights.

The 5 lawsuits against the city by homeless advocates will continue to try to stop the sharing ban in the court system...several other important decisions for the fate of downtown will also be decided over the coming weeks.

The City is requesting permission from the County for thousands of new residential units to be built in downtown in coordination with the development of the "All Aboard Florida" commuter rail station. The County is actually asking for greater requirements for affordable housing in these plans as only 15% of the housing proposed are expected for, and we quote, "normal folks." Absolutely none of this housing, of course, is planned for "homeless folks," particularly those that have been living in these same areas of downtown for years. Further discussion of these developments are expected next week at the Broward County Commission meeting.

Food Not Bombs will also continue to its quest to help the homeless crisis through direct democracy and direct action, including at their weekly Wednesday protests, now in their 2nd continuous month. It takes place every Wednesday at 7 pm in front of YOLO. Join the ongoing resistance to homeless hate laws!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

3 Months Later: Rallies & Awards

January 31st marked exactly 3 months since the beginning of the sharing ban. While the status quo of downtown remains mostly unaltered, a number of people affected by the law spent the anniversary in one spotlight or another.

In West Broward, Chef Arnold, Pastor Dwayne Black, Pastor Frank Pontillo (accepting on behalf of Rev. Mark Sims), and Nikki & Damien from Food Not Bombs received "civil liberty arrest medals from the Broward ACLU.

Homeless advocates also put together a rally downtown to shine a light on the underdog candidates running for Fort Lauderdale City Commission next month. Didier Ortiz, running for District 3, and Chris Brennan, running for Mayor, both spoke. 

Mayor Jack Seiler, Earl Rynerson, Donna Guthrie, Phil McKinzie, Dean Trantalis, and David Tabb all chose not to come. It seemed like at least one or two candidates seemed uncomfortable with attending a rally in collaboration with the "homeless hate law resisters." Oh well. 

Of interest in the next week or two is the expiration for the sharing ban injunction set shortly before Christmas. Although legal opinions seem somewhat varied, without further court rulings, it is possible the sharing ban could be enforced again starting next week, although highly unlikely due to the upcoming elections.Stay tuned. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Federal Civil Liberties Lawsuit Against City Is Filed by Food Not Bombs

Today's press release from Southern Legal Counsel:

Today, Southern Legal Counsel, the Legal Advocacy Center of Central Florida and the Law Offices of Mara Shlackman filed suit against the City of Fort Lauderdale to challenge the City’s recently passed ordinance and its park rules which unlawfully restrict the sharing of food with homeless and hungry persons in public spaces as a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, asks that the law be struck down, and that the Plaintiffs be awarded damages for the violations of their constitutional rights. Clients in the case are the organization Fort Lauderdale Food Not Bombs, along with four of its members – Nathan Pim, Jillian Pim, Haylee Becker, and William Toole. Fort Lauderdale Food Not Bombs and its members conduct weekly demonstrations which include sharing food in centrally located downtown Stranahan Park to communicate the message that access to food is a human right and that our society can end hunger and poverty if our collective resources are redirected from the military and war. Food Not Bombs members have been subject to arrest and citation by the City for their lawful protected First Amendment activities. Plaintiffs challenge the City’s ordinance, and its park rules, as violations of their constitutional rights to freedom of expression, speech and association.

Lead counsel, Kirsten Clanton, with Southern Legal Counsel, said “I have challenged laws across the state of Florida that seek to criminalize homelessness and the work of homeless advocates, and this one is among the most cruel and senseless. Unfortunately, Fort Lauderdale has joined a growing number of cities in Florida and across the nation in criminalizing the innocent conduct of sharing food with another human being. It is outrageous that the City would waste police and court resources to criminalize the innocent conduct of sharing food with another human being simply because of its misguided belief that the availability of food perpetuates homelessness.”

Ordinances criminalizing the sharing of food have increased in recent years as documented in No Safe Place, a recent report by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (the Law Center). The Fort Lauderdale law is similar to one struck down by a federal court in Dallas, Texas last year, following a challenge by the Law Center.

Attorney Mara Shlackman added, “Fort Lauderdale Food Not Bombs is not a charity. Its meals are shared by all who attend, regardless of social status, as symbolic First Amendment political expression that food is
a right, not a privilege, and that resources should be diverted from the military to meeting the needs of everyone. I look forward to a court decision that allows our clients to continue their important work.”
Co-counsel Andrea Costello commented, “The right to engage in political protest is at the heart of our democracy. The City of Fort Lauderdale is enforcing laws which attempt to make Food Not Bombs’ lawful political organizing a criminal act – taking political action to share food with those who are hungry while speaking out for human rights is not a crime.”

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player Southern Legal Counsel (SLC) is a nonprofit public interest law firm committed to the ideal of equal justice for all and the attainment of basic civil and human rights. It works to make this ideal a reality by providing legal representation to individuals and groups who would otherwise not have access to the justice system and whose cases may bring about systemic reform. SLC’s Homeless Advocacy Project works statewide in Florida to protect and defend the civil and human rights of homeless persons and their advocates.

The Legal Advocacy Center of Central Florida (LACCF) is a non-profit public interest legal organization committed to impact litigation and advocacy for individuals and groups to advance economic, social and racial justice. LACCF pursues strategies that promote systemic change to further civil rights.