(en) UNITED STATES: Activists Arrested for Feeding the Homeless

Lyn Gerry (redlyn@loop.com)
Mon, 20 Oct 1997 10:55:01 +0000

A AA AAAA The A-Infos News Service AA AA AA AA INFOSINFOSINFOS http://www.tao.ca/ainfos/ AAAA AAAA AAAAA AAAAA

Dear A-Infos Readers,

I apologize that this message is a little old. I am forwarding it to the list because it is most definitely NOT out-of-date. The issues it refers to continue unchanged.

Readers outside of the US especially may not be familiar with the work of Food Not Bombs, and the astonishing amount of police harassment which accompanies the work of this stauchly non-violent group.

Interestingly, while most "ordinary Americans" have not even heard of the group, they are shocked when they learn that for example, a Food Not Bombs activist spent 28 days in jail for feeding bagels ( a type of bread) to the hungry in San Francisco. Most middle class Americans, especially white Americans, do not think that such things would occur in the "land of the free." Unfortunately, most Americans do not read the A-Infos News Service or any other alternative press, and so are almost utterly in ignorance about what is really happening in the United States.

Similar harassment of FNB activists has occurred not only in other California cities but US cities in states other than California.

A-Infos readers will of course understand that it is not the feeding of meals but of ideas to America's most disenfranchised (and rapidly growing) group that has the "authorities" so clearly alarmed.


============================================ ------- Forwarded Message Follows ------- Date: Sun, 5 Oct 1997 13:16:38 -0700 (PDT) From: x344150 <sffnb@iww.org> To: sffnb@iww.org Subject: To: Hugh mejia Fr: Lynette Matimba Re: Yr request Reply-to: media-l@tao.ca


UNITED STATES: Activists Arrested for Feeding the Homeless

by Haider Rizvi

WASHINGTON, Jul 19 (IPS) - Feeding the homeless can get you a jail sentence in California.

More than 700 social activists have been arrested in the west coast city of San Francisco in the past two years for the ''crime'' of distributing free food to homeless people, according to the U.S.-based Institute for Food and Development Policy.

Robert Kahn of the social action group 'Food Not Bombs' was sent to jail for two months, beginning Jun. 17, following a two- year trial. He was sentenced despite an appeal by the district attorney to set him free. He had been charged with handing out free food to the homeless in public.

Activists say San Francisco Police continue to arrest and harass homeless people as well as food rights groups under a California state law that forbids distribution of free food to the homeless without permission from authorities.

Officials contend the law is to ensure that the food is safe for human consumption, but civil rights and human rights advocates allege it is a device that the police are using to persecute activists and to drive the homeless out of the city.

''The repressive measures of the authorities are disguised attempts to push the hungry and the homeless out of public places to promote the tourist industry,'' says Alice Kloker of the Food First Information and Action Network (FIAN), a Germany-based group that tracks economic rights violations worldwide.

FIAN claims there are five million children in the United States who go to sleep hungry each night and that there are 23,000 children who die of poverty-related causes each year.

FIAN says people in the United States lack adequate food mainly ''because they have insufficient income,'' and that California has experienced a deep and prolonged recession in which jobs have been lost and wages eroded.

Over the past four years, 'Aid to Families With Dependent Children' grants have been cut by 14 percent. The maximum monthly grant for a family of three fell from 694 dollars in 1990 to 594 dollars in 1995, which represents an almost 30 percent loss in real dollars.

In addition, budget cuts have deprived 26 million children of school lunch programmes, five million children of school breakfast programmes, and deprived 5.9 pregnant women of food stamps, according to the Institute for Food and development Policy (IFDP).

The child poverty rate in the United States has risen from 18 percent in the 1980s to 22 percent in the 1990s, which, according to IFDP, is the highest among the industrialised countries.

Rejecting the official argument of a lack of resources, food activists insist that the state must take the responsibility to ensure the right to food by providing jobs and adequate social security for those unable to work.

Karen Parker, a lawyer specialising in international human rights law, notes that ''The United States is the largest exporter of agricultural products, yet the agricultural surplus in the United States by no means indicates that everyone is well fed in the country.''

Both the London-based Amnesty International and the United Nations Human Rights Commission are investigating charges of police brutalities against the 'Food Not Bombs' activists.

Amnesty International sent several letters last year to U.S. authorities, including the U.S. Department of Justice, seeking explanation for the arrests and police harassment of 'Food Not Bombs' activists in San Francisco.

In a letter to California governor Pete Wilson dated Jun. 14, Amnesty said it was disturbed at evidence suggesting the law may have been used against the activists ''because their beliefs and activities were unpopular with the city administration.''

Amnesty and others have been dissatisfied with the response to their appeals.

''There's a complete silence from the U.S. side on this issue,'' says Parker who is closely assisting the U.N. Human Rights Commission in investigations into police harassment of food activists.

''It's really shameful.''

'Food Not Bombs' activists say they are harassed, not because of their charity work, but for political reasons.

''We don't merely distribute free food, we make political and social statements at public places,'' says Hugh Mejia, a spokesman for the group. ''We try to make people aware of their basic human rights.''

'Food Not Bombs' says it has applied for the official permit for free distribution of food 130 times, but that authorities have never responded to their requests.

''To them, we are just a bunch of anarchists who pose a great threat to the prevailing economic and political system,'' says Mejia.

Human rights advocates say police harassment of those increasing public awareness about the right to food is a gross violation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which recognises the right to ''be free from hunger, the right to adequate living, and the right to work.''

The United States has yet to join over 130 nations that have already ratified this Covenant.

''It's questionable how the United States can justify its role as a world leader in international affairs when it does not promote universal standards of wellbeing on its own soil,'' said the San Francisco Bay Guardian in a recent editorial on Kahn's arrest.

Imagine what the United States would say if this occurred in another country, added Parker. ''If the military dictatorship in Burma arrested people for feeding the poor, the United States would condemn them. Here in San Francisco, there is silence.'' (END/IPS/HR/YJC/96) 

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