Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Public safety

Carlton: Arrested for feeding homeless people? It's complicated

It is tempting to begin discussion of the recent dispute in a downtown Tampa park thusly:

Good news, everyone! Apparently serious crime is nonexistent and Tampa police have plenty of time to arrest good-hearted people who dare to serve food to the homeless. Particularly when there's a big college football game packing the town.

Except the truth — like the problem of homelessness at the root of all this — is more complex.

First, don't you suppose those officers involved in the highly videoed arrests of seven people Saturday from a group called Tampa Food Not Bombs would rather have been out fighting what most of us think of as, you know, actual crime?

The charge was trespass after warning because volunteers did not have the required city permit — which would make them subject to potential fees and the cost of insurance coverage — and did not shut down after police told them to.

Yes, rules are rules, and cops are there to enforce them. And yes, there are sound reasons to require city approval. Obviously, officials need to know what's going on in the parks, whether they need traffic control or police, if events conflict, that sort of thing.

But aren't parks for the people? And seriously, we're talking about volunteers setting up a couple of battered cafeteria tables and dishing out hot coffee and vegan and vegetarian chow to maybe two dozen people shivering in the cold.

So about that timing: Food Not Bombs volunteers got arrested for similarly nefarious crimes 12 years ago, but charges were dropped. They say they have been serving the homeless (or "sharing" with the "houseless") ever since — probably more than 100 times last year.

Hmm. Do you suppose Saturday's YouTubed dispute had something to do with all those Clemson and Alabama fans traipsing around the prettied-up downtown before Monday's national championship football game? With the homeless being an unsightly detail officials might not want trotted out for the party?

The city denies there's anything whatsoever to the timing.

Videos and news coverage of volunteers led off in handcuffs got lots of attention. And no question about it, Food Not Bombs threw down the gauntlet, saying they would be back Tuesday morning. And back they came with bread pudding, sweet potato pie and supporters carrying signs that said things like "Move On To Where?"

As people filled paper plates with steaming food, 10 or so police officers walked up. (Lykes Gaslight Square Park is conveniently located just outside the downtown police station, where homeless people often use the bathrooms.) "Don't worry, Usher went home!" someone called, referencing the hot weekend concert at a park nearby. And another: "I am one angry hobo!" It made for an interesting standoff.

A police lieutenant explained the rules and asked Food Not Bombs to take down the tables. Protesters linked arms, making clear this was not the plan. Homeless people tucked extra sandwiches and bananas into backpacks and wrapped on donated scarves.

As we all waited to see what would happen next, I listened in on a cop quietly chatting with a protester, urging him to talk to his elected City Council members to get the rules changed so this wouldn't happen. Sensible compromise in the midst of all this. What a thought.

In the end, the city opted in the name of optics and did not arrest anyone — or not exactly. Later, trespassing charges would be filed directly to the State Attorney's Office against some people who were serving food again — the city sticking to its guns while avoiding the potential for even worse video viewing.

Here is what I was left thinking: It is a sad fact that most interesting American cities also struggle with what to do about people on the streets. We are nothing new.

Tampa did look good for the big game. It would also be nice to be known for the kind of change — the kind of empathy — even the cop and the protester seemed to agree on.

Comments
Florida teen with peanut allergy dies after eating Chips Ahoy! cookie

Florida teen with peanut allergy dies after eating Chips Ahoy! cookie

A 15-year-old Florida girl with a peanut allergy died last month after she ate what she believed to be regular Chips Ahoy! Chewy cookies.Alexi Ryann Stafford, of Weston, was at a friend’s house when she grabbed the cookie while the re-sealable top of...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Video: Woman snatches purse out of motorized scooter in Largo

Video: Woman snatches purse out of motorized scooter in Largo

LARGO — Police detectives are searching for two women accused of snatching a purse from a 53-year-old woman on a motorized shopping cart.They pair were identified as Tanesha Gary, 36, and Shanan Diaz, 38. Largo police said there is probable cause to ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Watch this bicyclist ignore barriers, fall into gap on Wisconsin draw bridge

Watch this bicyclist ignore barriers, fall into gap on Wisconsin draw bridge

MENASHA, Wis. — Police say a bicyclist who weaved past the gates blocking access to a bridge over a river in eastern Wisconsin escaped serious injury after falling into the gap that was created when the bridge started to rise. Wisconsin Department of...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Police: Clearwater man crashes stolen car, flees while friend is in back seat

Police: Clearwater man crashes stolen car, flees while friend is in back seat

CLEARWATER — A Clearwater man was arrested after he was accused of stealing a car Monday night, running a red light and crashing into a car.After the crash, police say Rico Hayes, 21, ran from the scene holding a bottle of liquor, leaving an injured ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Trains crashes into car in Dade City, injuring one

Trains crashes into car in Dade City, injuring one

DADE CITY — One person was seriously injured Tuesday when a train struck a car near the 37900 block of Vitality Way, according to Pasco County Fire Rescue.The person, who has not been identified, was pulled from an SUV and flown from the scene by med...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Hernando Sheriff: Two men charged in middle school laptop theft

Hernando Sheriff: Two men charged in middle school laptop theft

SPRING HILL — Two young men are in jail after admitting to stealing 19 laptops from Powell Middle School earlier this month, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.Justin Hopkins, 21, and Brandon Pestana, 22 — former students at the school...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Hillsborough training school resource officers during active shooter exercise

Hillsborough training school resource officers during active shooter exercise

DOVER — With the start of classes nearly three weeks away, Hillsborough County school resource officers are receiving extensive active shooter training Tuesday morning to prepare them in the event of another school tragedy.Members of the Hillsborough...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Daughter accused in fatal beating of 85-year-old mother who didn’t include her in will

Daughter accused in fatal beating of 85-year-old mother who didn’t include her in will

Saying she was angry about being left without an inheritance, a Fort Lauderdale woman fatally beat her 85-year-old mother, police say.Gabriela Perero, 53, is facing charges of premeditated murder and aggravated battery on a person 65 years of age or ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Her 3-year-old was locked in a washing machine filling with water. Now she’s warning parents.

Her 3-year-old was locked in a washing machine filling with water. Now she’s warning parents.

It’s not unusual for Lindsey and Alan McIver’s children to get up before them.Most mornings, the kids entertain themselves for about 10 to 15 minutes, coloring and playing, before going to wake their parents, Lindsey McIver told the Washington Post.B...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Woman run over by Publix semitrailer in Florida dies

Woman run over by Publix semitrailer in Florida dies

BOYNTON BEACH — Authorities say a Florida woman is dead after being run over by a Publix grocery store semitrailer. A Boynton Beach police news release says 68-year-old Herma Jervis was taken to a nearby hospital Monday morning and was pronounced dea...
Updated: 9 hours ago