Fort Collins, CO – On February 3, 2019, like on every Sunday, the Fort Collins’ chapter of Food Not Bombs (FNB) cooked up a homemade, nutritious meal for their free meal share at 1pm. However once they arrived at their typical location of Library Park, the volunteers were met with threats by the Fort Collins Police Department and were forced to shut down their meal.
Unicorn Riot will be live this Sunday, February 17, 2019 at a food justice rally during the meal share:
Two weeks ago, the police told the volunteers they needed a permit to be sharing a meal in public, but one FNB volunteer Kate, told Unicorn Riot the real motives the group believes are behind the police harassment:
“The city rules about what kinds of events require a permit are fairly vague, but most of what they say is that over 250 people is an event that requires a permit. Which on the best of days we would get like 40 or 50 people here, usually closer to 30. So we believe it’s part of the Police’s and the city’s effort to continue to criminalize poverty and make it difficult for houseless people to get meals, have access to resources, and some kind of an attempt to cover up poverty and have it go away, which is never going to work.”
Nationwide, it is not new for FNB chapters to receive harassment, threats, and even citations and arrests. The first volunteers to be arrested for sharing free food in public space was in San Francisco in 1988 where there were nine arrests.
In October 2014 in Fort Lauderdale, FL, the city passed a food distribution ordinance, which effectively criminalized the Fort Lauderdale’s Food Not Bombs weekly meal, and all other meal shares. Less than two weeks after the ordinance passed, Fort Lauderdale police arrested 90-year-old Arnold Abbot and two pastors who were part of local organization Love thy Neighbor, for sharing food with houseless people.
In 2015 FNB Fort Lauderdale filed suit against the city for the ordinance, but they lost in federal district court, where Judge William Zloch ruled that distributing food was not constitutionally protected “expressive conduct.”
However in a food justice victory, in August 2018 in Fort Lauderdale, their FNB chapter won in an appellate court. The appellate court judge said that Judge William Zloch was wrong to dismiss the case on the grounds that the First Amendment didn’t apply. The case has been sent back to the trial court to determine whether the city’s ordinances violate the First Amendment.
In Fort Collins, the fight for the right to share food with people in public space is just beginning.
Unicorn Riot will continue to provide updates when they become available.