Ruling: It's not a crime to feed the hungry

10/10/07 Seán Kinane
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On Tuesday, Eric Montanez, a member of Orlando Food Not Bombs, was found not guilty of serving food to the homeless without a permit.

Montanez was arrested April 4 in downtown Orlando’s Lake Eola Park for violating an ordinance enacted last year by the city requiring a permit for “large group feedings” of more than 24 people.

Food Not Bombs routinely shares vegetarian and vegan food with large numbers of homeless people in cities throughout Florida and the world.

Montanez pleaded not guilty on May 4 and his trial began Monday.

If convicted, Eric Montanez would have faced a $500 fine and 60 days in jail.

Orlando Food Not Bombs member Ben Markeson said he was happy Montanez was acquitted.

Markeson said that in addition to thinking that Montanez did not violate Orlando’s large group feedings ordinance, the jury also might have been leery of convicting Montanez for doing something that was morally just.

Food Not Bombs has served food in Lake Eola Park three times each day this week in a show of solidarity with Montanez during his trial in what they are calling the Lake Eola Ladle Fest.

Markeson said that even though the group is breaking Orlando’s ordinance by feeding people without a permit, there have not been any arrests at the Ladle Fest.

Other cities, including Tampa have passed ordinances outlawing large feedings without a permit, only to either rescind the ordinance or stop enforcing it after losing legal or public opinion battles. Keith McHenry thinks that this is what could happen in Orlando as well.

But Markeson thinks that Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer might still insist on enforcing the ordinance.

In an email statement, Sergeant Barbara Jones, a public information officer with the Orlando Police Department “… the city will continue to enforce this ordinance, as it is a vehicle for the city to balance the needs and safety of residents visiting the park and those who desire to feed in the park.”

Carson Chandler, press secretary Mayor Dye, agrees that the city will continue to arrest people for serving food to large groups without a permit.

Chandler said that Orlando is not involved in a war against the homeless.

Learn more:

Orlando Sentinel article on Montanez acquittal

Lake Eola Ladle Fest

Arrest of Eric Montanez / Stop the Ordinance Partnership

Orlando Food Not Bombs

St. Pete Food Not Bombs

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