Ninety year old homeless advocate Arnold Abbot and a pair of clergymen among others were cited by Fort Lauderdale police for violating the city's newly enacted food sharing ordinance, which aims to criminalize distributing meals to the poor and dispossessed.
In recent months the government of Fort Lauderdale has taken to extreme measures to make life harder for the city's homeless, passing a series of ordinances including a ban on leave personal property in public spaces for more than 24 hours. The most recent is the criminalization of food sharing, putting enormous, untenable restrictions on charitable organizations' ability to function. Arnold Abbot and other members of the group Love Thy Neighbor defied that order on Sunday, and were almost immediately given court summons for it. Whenever you think Florida cannot possibly get worse, it gets worse.
"Drop that plate right now," was the Fort Lauderdale Police officer's directive to Abbott, as he was doling out food to the fourth person in a line of well over 100 homeless and hungry people queuing on the sidewalk on a cool, sunlit day. Abbott later half-joked that from the way the officer barked his order, he seemed to have mistaken the plate in his hand for a gun.
Abbott had been insistent that none of his crew of about ten helpers put themselves in harm's way and risk arrest as he was doing and called for calm among the visibly angry crowd as he was led from behind a table of food to the side of an FLPD cruiser to receive his summons. While the crowd stayed calm, it was too late to prevent others who already had assisted with the sharing from also being issued citations.
The Rev. Canon Mark Sims of St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Coral Springs, the Rev. Dwayne Black of the Sanctuary Church in Fort Lauderdale, and Irene Smith, one of Love Thy Neighbor's helpers, were each issued a summons. Their court dates will be set in the coming weeks. Violations of the ordinance carry penalties of up to a $500 fine and/or 60 days in jail.