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Monday, June 4, 2012

Philadelphia Bans the Fight Against Hunger on the Streets

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By David Dennis [CC-BY-SA-2.0
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)],
via Wikimedia Commons
"In any civilized society, it is every citizen's responsibility to obey just laws. But at the same time, it is every citizen's responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
This famous quote by Martin Luther King Jr. sums up the feelings of many Philadelphia residents after a recent law was passed regarding the homeless.  Last Friday, Philadelphia passed a law banning the feeding of homeless people outside.  Mayor Michael Nutter stated that it was put in place to “protect the dignity of the homeless people,” but is banning the feeding of someone protecting their dignity?

"The fact that the city of Philadelphia is saying now that the homeless don't have the right to eat on the Ben Franklin Parkway or eat around Center City is a clear violation of civil rights,” Reverend Brian Jenkins of Chosen 300 stated, adding, "It says that people that have … can eat in a certain place, but people that have not, can't.”  

Can someone really be prosecuted for giving food to someone and allowing “people that have not” to eat? The city of Philadelphia thinks so.  If you are a “repeat offender” of committing the terrible deed of saving someone from hunger, you may be fined $150.  

The passing of this law opens up many questions.  If I meet my friend at the park and hand him or her a coffee that I picked up, will I be fined?  How can this law segregate a single group of people by their social class?  If this law were truly just, wouldn’t everyone be treated equally under it?  

This law was passed to "protect the dignity of the homeless, cleanliness of the parks, and eliminate food health concerns.”  In reality, it will not fix any of these problems.  Starving someone does not restore their dignity, and it may eliminate food health concerns, but one does not have to worry about the safety of food he or she does not have. 

A major complaint of many Philadelphia citizens is the issue of public defecation by homeless people in the park.  How does taking away their food or making them find food indoors fix this problem?  Public restrooms made available to these less fortunate would be a much better solution than taking away their food.

Many organizations are choosing to ignore this law.  The operations manager for Chosen 300, Altressa Boatwright stated, “I encourage every church, every organization, every individual that has been serving on the Parkway to continue serving on the Parkway, despite this law that is going into effect.”  Chosen 300 has already offered to pay the first ten fines that result from this law.  Many citizens of Philadelphia are taking action like Altressa and are willing to serve jail time to stand up for the liberty of others.

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