That Good Deed Might Cost You $300 in Miami

(Change.Org)   The doggie bag from your restaurant dinner could be tomorrow’s lunch. But then you see someone on the street who needs that meal more than you do. So you hand it over (with a smile) and continue on your way, maybe feeling a little better about yourself. by Jacqueline Dowd

Then a police officer stops you and hands you a $300 ticket.

That’s what could happen if a city ordinance being considered in Miami is enacted into law.

The Miami City Commission is considering a proposal that would prohibit “unauthorized” people and groups from sharing food with homeless people in the downtown area.

Proponents say the ordinance will cut down on litter and ensure the safety of the food that homeless people eat.

Cut down on litter? Give me a break. Beyond the silliness of that, I’ll put my lawyer hat on and tell you that the Supreme Court has ruled that the governmental interest in preventing litter was insufficient to justify an ordinance that would have prohibited individuals from handing out literature to those willing to receive it. That ordinance violated the First Amendment right to free speech. (The case is Schneider v. State of New Jersey, Town of Irvington). Of course, a city has the power to punish individuals who throw leaflets (or food wrappers) on the ground, rather than those who hand them out.

Ensure the safety of food given to hungry people? That’s even sillier.

Punishing people who try to help homeless people is a new tactic adopted in the past few years by many cities, including Las Vegas, Dallas and my hometown of Orlando. The National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty have published a report on this tactic, entitled “Feeding Intolerance.”

In Orlando, we’re waiting to hear from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in our case. Orlando Food Not Bombs and others challenged the ordinance on constitutional grounds. After a trial, the judge ruled — for the first time in the United States — that sharing food with hungry and homeless people in public spaces is expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment. The judge also ruled that Orlando’s ordinance restricting food sharing violated the right to free exercise of religion. The city appealed, and we’re waiting for the appeals court decision.

But whether the ordinance is constitutional or not, should the government be able to tell me to whom I can give my own stuff? Urge the mayor of Miami not to punish those who help the most vulnerable.

Photo credit: Haundreis

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3 Responses to That Good Deed Might Cost You $300 in Miami

  • Well, while I agree that this is an abhorent ordinance Miami is trying to pass, I also feel very stongly that the rest of the country will have nothing to fear from Florida for much longer. You see, the oil spill is going to make Florida a toxic waste dump very soon. It wont matter what any politician from that state thinks, because soon there will no longer be a Florida. ( Except of course for the toxic waste dump BP helped turn it into )

  • It’s pretty much true that most homeless people do litter and bring down property values and harass people with begging, even making threats when not given money. I think begging should be illegal as it borders on harassment and often the beggars become belligerent, threatening violence, when ignored, so giving them money is pretty much extortion.

  • I believe that the way we treat people, in this case the ‘homeless’, is shameful and a violation of international human rights laws. The main issue is not feed, help, and protect the homeless, the goal is to get rid of the ‘unwanted’, the ‘useless-eaters’, whom make little or NO contribution to society, and specifically NO contribution to the economy and the treasury. In Orlando, FL., where I live, I have noticed harassment by ‘leo’s’ (law enforcement officers) on the ‘homeless’ by stopping people whom are walking down a sidewalk doing nothing wrong or going into the ‘camps’ in the woods, of E. Orange County, FL., and checking ID’s (so they claim). This is done in the name of ‘ we have the right to ‘engage’ the citizens of Orange County, FL.’, as claimed by a deputy sheriff.

    I believe that we should get real and stop costing the taxpayer, of Orange County, FL., so much money, and maybe cut the sheriff’s budget by 5% over this wasted activity. Leave these people alone and we all should be reaching out to help because this gives people a sense of human charity and fulfillment. I believe we need to reach out to people just as the ‘Good Samaritan’ helped the foreigner whom had been robbed and wounded. This is why we are trying to establish the ‘Samaritans Resource Center’ in E. Orange County, FL., to serve people just as Jesus served people and commanded us to do the same.

    Good Day.

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