Orlando Food Not Bombs chafes at suggestion of “truce” with city

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After yesterday’s article by Mark Schlueb in the Orlando Sentinel on the “truce” between the city and Orlando Food Not Bombs (OFNB), as well as our own coverage of the group in this week’s edition of Happytown, some of those affiliated with OFNB have taken umbrage with the media’s verbiage. Both the Sentinel and the Weekly noted that for the past month, OFNB has been sharing free food with the public—many of them homeless—at City Hall, per Mayor Buddy Dyer’s invitation, rather than the customary Lake Eola Park picnic area which hosted 27 arrests within a span of five weeks. “A truce has been declared in the battle between homeless-feeding activists and Orlando City Hall,” Schlueb wrote. “I don’t consider it a truce or a compromise—it’s a temporary move,” says Ben Markeson, the group’s de facto spokesperson. Markeson says that the group had little choice but to move after police began preemptively trespassing activists on July 6. While violating the city’s Large Group Feeding ordinance is a second-degree misdemeanor (60 days in jail, maximum), “trespass after warning” is a first-degree misdemeanor (one year in jail, maximum). The group was already having difficultly maintaining a reliable stream of volunteers willing to get arrested for sharing food; the stiffer penalties initiated on July 6 ensured that OFNB had to change its strategy quickly. OFNB’s lawyer, Shayan Elahi, says he is now preparing a federal injunction against the city. “We believe that the preemptive trespassing from the park based on membership in the group is patently a violation of First Amendment rights,” he says. (Orlando police officer Rich Ruth told media on July 6 that the trespassing orders were based on the group’s obvious intent to violate the Large Group Feeding ordinance, which would then be grounds for trespassing.) The federal injunction would join another injunction Elahi filed with the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court on June 23, as well as a promised defamation lawsuit against the Mayor for calling OFNB members “food terrorists.” Elahi says the defamation suit is “ready to go” but he is waiting for consent from the group, which makes its decisions by consensus. In this week’s edition of Happytown, we characterize the battle between OFNB and the city as having entered a “mellow stalemate.” Elahi contests that characterization, instead arguing that the group’s presence at City Hall is a sign of protest, not deadlock. “This is an in-your-face strategy, and not a stalemate,” Elahi says. (Also see our July 21 cover story, “Fed Up,” for an evaluation of the city’s homeless services in light of the Orlando Food Not Bombs arrests.) One final note: today, the Orlando Sentinel editorial board reaffirmed its support for the city in the public feeding dispute, framing the current situation as a victory for City Hall: “Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer's compromise with the homeless-feeding activists in Food Not Bombs was inspired,” the editorial states.

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