There are a lot of strange local ordinances in this country. But perhaps none are stranger than the one that resulted in the arrest of a nonagenarian for giving food to hungry people.
Last month, Ft. Lauderdale city officials passed a new measure to crack down on people feeding the homeless. On Sunday, two days after the new law went into effect, Arnold Abbott, 90, a longtime advocate for the homeless and regular volunteer at a local soup kitchen, was arrested for the crime of giving food to the needy. He now faces up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. Two local pastors were also arrested and face the same potential sentences.
Watch Abbott’s arrest:
According to a census last year, there are 2,810 homeless individuals and families who live in Broward County, most of whom reside in Ft. Lauderdale.
Now, Abbott has been put in the unusual position of having to defend his charity work. In an interview with Local 10, he recounted the experience. “One of the police officers said, ‘Drop that plate right now,’ as if I were carrying a weapon,” said Abbott.
Local 10 also spoke with Mayor Jack Seiler, who justified the city’s actions: “We enforce the laws here in Ft. Lauderdale.”
Indeed, Ft. Lauderdale has been enforcing a number of new ordinances intended to criminalize homelessness. In April, the city moved to make it illegal for homeless people to have possessions in public, allowing police officers to confiscate any personal possessions they find after 24 hours. Unsatisfied, the city took its anti-homeless crackdown a step further in September, making it illegal to sleep in public.
For his part, Abbott said he will fight the charges and hopes to overturn the anti-charity ordinance. “I fully believe that I am my brother’s keeper,” he told Local 10. “These are the poorest of the poor, they have nothing, they don’t have a roof over their heads. How do you turn them away?”