New York Times contributor Barbara Ehrenreich wrote an Op-Ed this weekend about the increasingly poor treatment of those suffering from poverty in America, and mentioned Middletown among its examples of local crackdowns on food sharing:
The viciousness of the official animus toward the indigent can be breathtaking. A few years ago, a group called Food Not Bombs started handing out free vegan food to hungry people in public parks around the nation. A number of cities, led by Las Vegas, passed ordinances forbidding the sharing of food with the indigent in public places, and several members of the group were arrested. A federal judge just overturned the anti-sharing law in Orlando, Fla., but the city is appealing. And now Middletown, Conn., is cracking down on food sharing.
In case you don’t remember, the Middletown Food Not Bombs group, which consists of Wesleyan students and other Middletown residents, distributed free food on Main Street in Middletown every weekend last semester, but were issued a cease-and-desist order from the Middletown Health Department for violating city health ordinances. They were then fined after defying it for months, but continued to distribute meals despite increasing official interference.
According to the Middletown Eye, FNB filed an injunction in federal court in June against the City of Middletown and the State of Connecticut to prevent enforcement of the cease-and-desist order, claiming that shutting down FNB gatherings is a violation of the group’s First Amendment rights:
“It is unbelievable that at a time of drastic cutbacks in state services, the State of Connecticut is wasting judicial resources on an unwinnable prosecution. Not only is this criminal prosecution a violation of Mr. Bobman’s First Amendment rights,” said Attorney Polan, “but it is also a case of illegal selective prosecution because the health department official who made the criminal complaint has admitted that Food Not Bombs is a leaderless organization. It is obvious that Mr. Bobman cannot be held criminally responsible for the actions of a political organization.”
According to the plaintiffs, Food Not Bombs does not “dispense food” in the manner that the city’s health code regulates, like a restaurant or a soup kitchen. Instead, Food Not Bombs gathers as a community to share food, in the form of a potluck, as a statement of equality and abundance. As plaintiff Fred Carroll stated: “What’s next? The Health Department will come in and regulate people’s picnics in the park?”
The Middletown Eye says FNB is working towards a solution that would allow members to keep distributing meals without further interference. Good luck, Food Not Bombs – hope the issue gets resolved soon.
NY Times: Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor?