The ACLU of Southern California today announced the filing of a legal action to prevent the City of Los Angeles, including officers from the Los Angeles Police Department and Recreation and Parks Department, from interfering with the activities of Food Not Bombs, a group dedicated to raising public awareness of homelessness, hunger, and poverty in Los Angeles by providing food to some of the city's most needy residents.
In December, 1999, Los Angeles authorities arrested eight people for exercising their basic rights to expression and association in downtown's Pershing Square Park. On December 26, 1999, six volunteers from Food Not Bombs were arrested as they attempted to provide free food to the homeless in Pershing Square. The six were arrested after they refused to move from the area where they have served food for the past two years to a less visible part of the park. None of the volunteers were blocking access to any park facility. In addition to the six volunteers arrested that evening, another individual - who was not feeding people and is not a member of Food Not Bombs - was arrested simply for videotaping the actions of officers of the Los Angeles Police Department and Park Rangers in Pershing Square. These seven arrests followed the arrests of another Food Not Bombs volunteer the previous Sunday, December 19, 1999, also for feeding homeless people and for speaking out on their behalf. As a result of these eight arrests, Food Not Bombs and its members have already been forced to curtail their speech and feeding activities in Pershing Square.
'The holiday season is traditionally a time for giving to those who are homeless and needy,' said ACLU attorney Daniel Tokaji. 'Unfortunately, this year, the city of Los Angeles has instead taken something vital away from its neediest residents: not only the food they depend upon, but also their voice. Our request for a temporary restraining order is an attempt to ensure that 'Food Not Bombs' can continue to feed homeless people and speak out against poverty and hunger without fear of being arrested.'