Advocates Arrested for Feeding Homeless in El Cajon Vow to Contest Legality of Ordinance

by on January 16, 2018 · 1 comment

in Civil Rights, Ocean Beach

Photo also published at San Diego Free Press

OB Advocates Have Also Been Threatened with Arrest Over the Years

On Sunday, January 14th, about a dozen people were arrested for feeding homeless people at a park in El Cajon. Police cited them and did not actually cuff or take the arrested in but released them.

The very next day, Monday the 15th, the homeless advocates – part of a group called Break the Ban – held a news conference in Balboa Park to announce they will be filing a lawsuit against El Cajon that will claim the city ordinance banning food sharing in public spaces is unconstitutional.

It was in October when El Cajon City Council members passed the ban in an unanimously vote, claiming the ordinance would help protect the public from hepatitis A.

But one of the attorneys representing Break the Ban and one of the people arrested, Scott Dreher, disputed the claim by El Cajon officials and stated the city was using the hepatitis A outbreak as a cover that punitively dehumanized and criminalized the homeless. He said:

“It’s discriminatory against a vulnerable class of people. Plain and simple. And on top of that, it abridges the First Amendment rights of the people who want to feed them.”

Break the Ban attorneys plan to file the lawsuit in 10 days and will also file motions to dismiss the charges on those arrested.

It was at Wells Park on East Madison Avenue in El Cajon on Sunday where the “crimes” of feeding homeless occurred. Several dozen people were present to hand out food to those who were houseless, when El Cajon police – who were monitoring the event – moved in and made the misdemeanor citations. One of those arrested was a 14-year-old.

Break the Ban was formed in response to the ban. Organizer Mark Lane told the media the group had two goals: to feed homeless people and also to contest the legality of the ordinance in court. Sunday was the group’s fourth event. They plan their next event to be on January 27th. The group has also joined hands with another organization called Food Not Bombs that has also been involved in food-sharing events

Lane did quote Martin Luther King, Jr. when he said:

“If a law is unjust, you’re obligated to reject it. We saw an unjust law and we’re rejecting it.”

One of the other organizers also arrested was Shane Parmely. She stated:

“If El Cajon gets away with passing an ordinance like this, then what’s to stop Ramona or Santee or La Mesa from passing ordinances like this? We need to stop it now.”

“We just have this way of criminalizing and stigmatizing the most neediest members of our society. Where would they like them to go? That’s the question.”

Indeed, homeless advocates in Ocean Beach have also said they’ve been threatened with arrest by San Diego police for feeding homeless people in Saratoga Park. Three years ago, the presence of OB Rag reporters and other media during one of the meals for  homeless over the July 4th weekend prevented any arrests. We reported then:

A group that feeds homeless people on every holiday at an Ocean Beach park has been threatened with arrest by police if they go ahead feed the homeless on July 4th.  The group – Second Chances – is a non-profit that works with local churches and homeless advocates. They feed homeless people in OB every Saturday at the Episcopal Church on Sunset Cliffs and Brighton. And on major holidays the also feed homeless folks at Saratoga Park down at the beach. The last holiday they did this was on Memorial Day this year – without hassles.

Yet, one of their organizers, Glyn Franks, told the OB Rag that during a meeting of the OBMA Crime Prevention Committee yesterday, July 2, police alluded to making arrests of anyone feeding homeless at the park on July 4th. Franks said that he felt threatened with being detained and removed by police if he went ahead.

In fact, back in 2010, San Diego police halted the efforts under threat of arrest of an OB woman who been feeding homeless people for 22 years in Ocean Beach, claiming she didn’t have a proper permit. Police were worried homeless people would eat unsanitary food, despite that homeless go to dumpsters for much of their food.

Back in El Cajon, city councilmen had their views. Steve Goble said:

“This isn’t a ban on compassion, and there is certainly no restriction or lessening of access to food. This is about protecting the public, both those at-risk, and those around them.”

Councilman Bob McClellan said:

“They don’t have to feed them in the park where it could cause a problem according to the health authorities. If they want to help the homeless, look at the list of places. All they have to do is read the list.”

El Cajon had published a list of churches where people can get food.  El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells claimed the food event was “pure political opportunism.” He said:

“Political protest groups ignore this reasonable step to insure the public safety and look for a grander conspiracy. This is not a game, and I believe that public safety is more important than political posturing.”

Court dates for those who were arrested are spread out over the next few months with the first one scheduled for Wednesday, January 17.

News source: San Diego Union-Tribune


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Frank Gormlie January 22, 2018 at 10:42 am

A city councilmember in El Cajon has proposed rescinding the controversial ordinance that prohibits people from giving food to the homeless in city parks.

In a January 18 memo, councilmember Ben Kalasho said that as the hepatitis A outbreak nears the end so, too, should the ordinance.


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