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Since When Do We Penalize Feeding the Hungry?

The arrest of Ft. Lauderdale's 90-year-old good Samaritan has put other cities' attempts to ban charitable acts in the spotlight

Last week, 90-year-old good Samaritan Arnold Abbot of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was arrested for the apparently egregious crime of feeding hungry homeless people. Since January, the city has passed a series of ordinances that target the transient and needy, including a recent law that makes it illegal to offer them food in public places. While this might be a good tactic to get rid of a mangy cat that won’t stop hanging around your back porch, it seems like a piss-poor, distinctly uncharitable way of dealing with one’s fellow human beings. Fort Lauderdale Police required four officers to arrest the intimidating nonagenarian, a WWII vet and the author of From Aches To Ecstasy: A Sex Primer For Those Over Fifty.

Debbie and Chico Jimenez

While many have rallied to Abbot’s defense since the incident, Fort Lauderdale has continued to arrest residents for helping the poor. Surprisingly, there are a large number of municipalities that have also attempted to outlaw basic human kindness with similar statutes. In San Antonio, where asking for money is already banned in many public places, Police Chief William McManus tried to make it illegal to give money to poor people altogether. Authorities in Raleigh, North Carolina, nearly took in a local minister for conducting his community’s regular Saturday breakfast, which includes the homeless. And in May of this year, a Daytona Beach couple, Debbie and Chico Jimenez, had more than $2,000 in fines dismissed that they had accrued for feeding the needy. They were told they would face jail time if caught again.

According to a recent report from the National Coalition for the Homeless, at least 21 cities have enacted legislation attempting to restrict food sharing, and another 10 have unresolved ordinances that could still become law. But Arnold Abbot’s arrest, which went viral, shored up a massive amount of support for his type of direct outreach, and has finally brought the issue of food sharing bans into the public eye. The tough old codger, who has been doing this sort of work with the homeless for over two decades, has sworn to be out dispensing food again this week, no matter what he’s threatened with.

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