by Jeff Gore
The group Orlando Food Not Bombs (OFNB) has petitioned the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court today for an injunction against the city of Orlando “from violating
[an] administrative order and from omitting first amendment language from Orlando Police Department trespass warnings.” The administrative order in question, number 2003-39-17, states that arrests for second degree misdemeanors—like violating the Large Group Feeding ordinance, which OFNB has done purposefully—should be executed with a court summons. Instead, police have cuffed and detained OFNB activists routinely over the past three weeks.
In addition, OFNB member Ben Markeson, one of the first arrested at Lake Eola Park for violating the ordinance, announced his intention to file a defamation lawsuit against Mayor Buddy Dyer, who on June 7 was quoted by Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell as calling OFNB members “food terrorists.” The actual lawsuit has not yet been filed; according to a letter written by OFNB lawyer Shayan Elahi, Dyer still has “an opportunity to write a letter of apology explaining [his] slanderous remarks.”
The announcements were made at a press conference today at the city’s designated group feeding site on Sylvia Lane, which is a parking lot surrounded by barbed wire and located near a highway overpass. OFNB members regard the site as an insult to the homeless and others who attend food sharings. “They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and this site is the antithesis of respect for poor and working people in our community,” Markeson said.
Also in attendance was Kyan Ware of the Florida Civil Rights Association, which on June 14 sent a letter to Mayor Dyer condemning his “food terrorists” remark. “At the end of the day, you must realize what these young people are doing: they’re following a long line of civil disobedience that was championed by early pioneers of the civil rights movement,” Ware said.
This newest legal battle between the city and OFNB began on June 17, when Elahi threatened legal action against the city if it continued to detain OFNB activists for violating the city ordinance. Yet on Wednesday, two more activists were arrested, cuffed and taken to the Orange County Jail, suggesting the city is confident that one or more of the exceptions listed in the administrative order applies to the 23 Large Group Feeding arrests made since June 1.*
Elahi also takes issue with the deletion of language from trespassing notices advising the trespassed individuals of their First Amendment rights.
In an interview with the Weekly on Tuesday, city attorney Mayanne Downs declined to address the charges directly, stating that the city’s response to Elahi would be in the courtroom.
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*The administrative order states that “the arresting officer shall have the discretion, however, to book the accused person into the county jail if the officer determines that any of the following factors exist.
a. The subject of the arrest is known by the arresting officer to be a habitual offender;
b. The alleged crime is one of a violent nature or one which indicates a reckless disregard for the safety of others;
c. The nature of the accused person is clearly violent or disorderly;
d. The arresting officer has reason to believe that the accused person will repeat the offense if not detained;
e. The accused person has no valid, verifiable address;
f. The accused person does not reside in Orange County or a bordering county.
g. The arresting officer has reason to believe that the accused person meets the criteria for the Baker Act, or the Marchman Act, or is a substance abuser, or suffers from a mental illness.