The Criminalization of Compassion

On Sunday I wrote about the arrests of seven members of the Tampa Bay  chapter of Food Not Bombs.  They were arrested for serving food to the homeless in a public park without a permit.

On Tuesday, the group returned to the park to serve meals.  It is an activity they have engaged in for years without incident.  Police again returned to make arrests, but protesters linked arms around the group and refused to move.  Eventually the police left without making arrests, though news reports state that the members of the group may face criminal trespassing charges.

Today I welcome guest author and Tampa Bay Food Not Bombs Organizer Dezeray Lyn who writes a first hand account of events of January 7.  The essay was written Monday evening, the  day before the group returned to the park.  Photographs in the post are credited to Anthony Martino.

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The Criminalization of Compassion

by Dezeray Lyn

This past Saturday, I was dragged away in handcuffs from behind a table I have served from literally hundreds of times in the past several years. In all, 7 Tampa Food Not Bombs members and supporters were arrested by TPD for committing the crime of refusing to compromise with the city on hiding the suffering masses to accommodate tourists and guests to our community.

As I am facing arrest again tomorrow morning for refusing to be deterred from sharing food and manifesting solidarity into action; let me contextualize this story of resistance.

The city of Tampa has a history of arresting people for sharing with the hungry.

The city of Tampa has a history of bullying and silencing people for strapping themselves, without fear, to their constitutional rights and hanging on with fierce determination.

The city of Tampa has a history of trying to criminalize the ways that the houseless survive from one day to the next; ie the recent panhandling ban which was challenged in the courts by the Tampa movement Homeless Helping Homeless.

Allow me to note that the Homeless Helping Homeless house was raided by an army of police and shuttered just weeks after launching a legal counter (on the basis of unconstitutionality,) for reasons the TPD and city of Tampa decorated to look like, anything but a vicious backlash, an act of revenge and an attempt to silence those who rise up to defend their rights from their precarious position of struggle.

When an enemy to humanity presents itself to you at a table where you have shared food, laughs, conversation and hugs with people who are in a time of need, you straighten your back and stand your ground and that is what we fully intend on doing.

The TPD and city of Tampa are so ruthlessly blatant in their actions in that they chose the very day of a high-profile and highly profitable sports and music event in our city to enforce an ordinance that has been collecting dust for years. The timing is nothing if not conspicuous and ultimately, par for the course.

What the city of Tampa should know about our movement is that our hearts cannot be contained in a jail cell, they cannot be negotiated with, they cannot be slowed nor can they be stopped. We meet the need where the need is. We do not allow the city to disappear the suffering and as such, our food shares are active protests; every spoonful of food we pass across the table is a simultaneous statement to the city that this is a failure of their humanity and a display of what their greed and indifference to suffering has wreaked in the lives of so many.

I was one of 7 people arrested on Saturday for sharing food surrounded by supporters. Let this be our call to enliven the world we dare to believe is possible. Ordinances and handcuffs are no match for what we can do when we mobilize with love as our guide and compassion as the wind at our backs.

If you would like to support our movement, you are already a part of our movement.

Every time the city arrests us for sharing, we will be back with more people and more food.

Obtaining permits, as though our critically necessary sharing of resources can be likened or lumped in with a parade or a corporate labor day luncheon, is a signal of how dismissive and clueless the city of Tampa is. The permits we are being told we need to produce and pay for to give us a virtual admission ticket to express our solidarity with the hungry, are an outlandish affront to human decency.

We are walking into a period of uncertainty where race, ethnicity, Immigration status, gender, identity, birth place of origin and conscience itself will be weaponized against us. It is up to us to reject toxic narratives and laws alike and throw our hearts over the fence.

2 thoughts on “The Criminalization of Compassion

  1. Next time you hear someone say, “This is a Christian nation,” ask them, “Then how come people are being thrown in jail for feeding the hungry?”

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    • Certainly an odd contradiction in that the Gospel descriptions of Jesus depict him as, for all intents and purposes, homeless. Never mind what Jesus said about serving the least…

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