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.

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