Editorial: Dropping charges for feeding homeless is smart

Published Jan. 20, 2017

Hillsborough County's new state attorney, Andrew Warren, relied on common sense and appropriate discretion this week by dropping charges against a handful of activists arrested for feeding the homeless in a Tampa park. Though the group lacked a permit, the arrests by Tampa police were unnecessary. With this development, the two sides should see the wisdom in reaching an accommodation.

Warren announced Tuesday he would drop charges against the seven defendants who were arrested for trespassing this month after distributing food to the homeless in Lykes Gaslight Square Park without a city permit. Warren won election last year after promising to adjust what he called the overly punitive nature of the criminal justice system. "My mission," he said this week, "is to make our community safer while promoting justice." And toward that end, "prosecuting people for charitable work does not further that mission and is an inefficient use of government resources."

Warren added a condition that the group, Food Not Bombs, willingly and peacefully work to resolve the standoff with the city. That's fair and legitimate, and Warren's office has reached out to facilitate an agreement. This should not be a difficult issue. Other cities waive permitting requirements and find other accommodations to help charities serve those in need. One solution in this case would be to move this operation to a site better suited to feed the homeless. Tampa's City Council is looking at ending the permit requirement and will discuss the issue next month.

The bottom line is that charity and public order can coexist. The activists got the attention they wanted because the city blew this out of proportion. It was good to see Warren make a modest but smart down payment on his campaign promise and set the stage to resolve the impasse.