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.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Vote Out Mayor Seiler: Election Rally January 31st

Fort Lauderdale's much-neglected electoral process collides with its much-maligned public officials February 10th!

All 3 races, including the Mayor's, include candidates on opposite sides of the "homeless hate laws" issues. While the Mayor easily sailed to re-election in 2012, his international notoriety for implementing the sharing ban has made things a little more interesting this time around.

Join the homeless support community of downtown Ft Lauderdale for an election rally on January 31st at Bubier Park at 2 pm. So far Chris Brennan, running for Mayor, and Didier Ortiz, running for district 3, have confirmed they will be speaking. There will be some musical entertainment by Jeff D.

It is also worthwhile to note that the voluntary, 45-day sharing ban injunction will lapse about a week after this rally.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Anti-Homeless Laws Face Election Test

Filing for the Fort Lauderdale City Commission elections was this week. While off-season local elections tend to be an even worse attempt at participatory democracy than Florida state elections, it's pretty obvious to most that there will be something a little different this time. Regardless of the reasons why the City's statist voting bloc will ultimately re-elect the vast majority of the City Commission in February, this election will also be a referendum on the biggest political quagmire the City has seen in years: Fort Lauderdale's Homeless Hate Laws.

Meet the Candidates

Incumbency in American political elections is a joke to be sure. For just a cursory example, every incumbent running for re-election for Florida state congress in 2004 won.  If Jack Seiler wins re-election for the 2nd time this year he will have reached the half-way point of his potential term limit of 18 years. This will effectively mean that Fort Lauderdale has only had 2 Mayors in 28 years. Commissioners Bruce Roberts and Romney Rogers are, in fact, sailing to re-election unopposed for their third and final terms.

However, the other 3 races could represent a crucial  change  in the City's disastrous approach to homeless policy.


Outspoken "Rain Tree" advocate Chris Brennan and Republican Earl Rynerson are challenging Mayor Magic Jack for the big seat.

While Mr. Brennan does not have a campaign or website active as of yet, his involvement in the campaign to save the Fort Lauderdale Rain Tree would seem to place him in opposition to many of downtown's entrenched business interests.

Rynerson, despite carrying around the attribute of "Republican," (*City elections are non-partisan) opines regularly on his blog as a vocal critic of the Mayor, including against many of Seiler's most conversative stances. Therefore Rynerson is courting Seiler's foes in the fight for marriage equality (Rynerson is openly gay), homeless hate laws, police brutality, and yes, even the Rain Tree. So despite having lost this race to Seiler twice already, Rynerson has the unusual opportunity to challenge the Mayor when he has never been more unpopular, in part for his stances on these divisive issues.
How popular can this guy still be..?

District II

Dean Trantalis, the only City Commissioner to show even the slightest bit of hesitation when it came to the City's march to criminalize homelessness, is being challenged by David Tabb, who is on the board of directors for Riverwalk. While Tabb also does not have a campaign set up just yet, Riverwalk representatives regularly spoke in support of the Homeless Hate Laws when they were being discussed throughout 2014. It is relatively safe to assume that Mr. Tabb would bring the Commission even further into the pockets of Fort Lauderdale's classist plutocracy.

District III

The open seat for District 3 is the biggest opportunity for change in the City government in 2015, but it remains to be seen how much things will really "change."

Robert McKinzie, appointed by the City to close out Bobby Dubose's term, has already voted lock-step with the City on its remaining anti-homeless agendas, including voting to appeal the injunction against the sharing ban created in December by court order. McKinzie has already been the subject of criticism for carpet-bagging the Commission seat from the suburban comfort of nearby Plantation.

Donna Guthrie is also running for the seat and also spoke repeatedly at the City Commission in favor of anti-homeless laws on behalf of the Melrose Park Civic Association.

Ortiz at a homeless rights forum in October 2014
The third challenger is Didier Ortiz. Much like Brennan, Ortiz is an "activist" candidate that does not align with a major political party, represent a home-owners association, or own a business in Fort Lauderdale. He announced his campaign several months ago and has made his opposition to the City's Homeless Hate Laws a big part of his message. Ortiz still faces steep opposition as both other candidates represent business interests in a district that has benefited from tens of millions of dollars in redevelopment.


In the seriously unlikely chance that Magic Jack loses, Trantalis keeps his seat, and Ortiz wins D3, it would be a spectacular electoral coup; there would likely be a commission majority AGAINST homeless discrimination. However, even a seriously close race, especially a March run-off election for the Mayor's office or District 3's  seat, would increase the likelihood of the candidate's positions on these unpopular policies having an effect on their success. It therefore increases the chance that even if the incumbents reign supreme in February, that they will see anti-homeless policies as a long-term threat to their political careers.

The election for Mayor and District 3 is February 10th. The District 2 election is March 10th.

*If any candidates for these races would like to further clarify their positions on this issue, let us know through the contact form. We are not going to track you down and interview you.*