The leaders of a homeless rights advocacy group plan to speak out Monday after about a dozen of the group’s members were arrested in El Cajon for feeding the homeless on city property in defiance of a city ordinance.
The arrests occurred Sunday afternoon at Wells Park on East Madison Avenue next to El Cajon Valley High School during an event organized by the group Break the Ban, according to organizers Mark Lane and Shane Parmely. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that a second group, Food Not Bombs, and other activists were also involved in the event.
Break the Ban formed last year in response to an emergency ordinance unanimously approved by the City Council in October that banned the distribution of food on city-owned property. City officials said the ordinance was a response to the deadly hepatitis A outbreak.
But homeless rights groups like Break the Ban said “the law is unconstitutional and discriminatory” and promised to “continue to fight to have the ordinance overturned.”
None of those arrested Sunday were taken away in handcuffs, but everyone seen by police handing out food was arrested, given a misdemeanor citation with a date to appear in court and released, according to the Union-Tribune. Included in that group was a 14-year-old.
Several dozen other people supporting the group but not seen actively passing out food were not arrested or cited. El Cajon police referred questions about the arrests to the city, but a city spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment Monday.
“Break the Ban does not believe that the foundation of what our country was built upon in any way makes the arrests of people feeding homeless people okay,” Lane and Parmely said in a joint statement. They plan to hold a news conference Monday afternoon to discuss the arrests and the “legal actions that will follow.”
Break the Ban organizers defended the group’s action by quoting in part from a letter Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from jail which reads, “There are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that `an unjust law is no law at all.”‘
—City News Service