Thursday, August 17, 2006

Did Willfully and Unlawfully Provide Food

Did Willfully and Unlawfully Provide Food
by Robert Edmonds

Thursday Aug 17th, 2006 8:10 AM

Sonoma County Food Not Bombs Cited For “Providing Food to Indigent” in Las Vegas during protest to end new City of Las Vegas law.

LAS VEGAS, NV— “The Friendly City”, Sin City, whichever you prefer, Las Vegas on July 19th, 2006, passed the first U.S. ordinance to explicitly make sharing food with the poor a crime. In this city where millions of dollars a year are spent on demolishing perfectly intact lodging, people are now criminalized for sharing food. Although many cities have enacted laws that surreptitiously prevent the “indigent” from congregating in the public eye, this is the first time that a city has blatantly codified and enforced open class discrimination against the poor. Never before has the sharing of basic survival necessities, such as food and water, with human beings of a perceived socioeconomic class been so specifically, legally enshrined as a criminal act.

The new ordinance LVMC 13.36.055 prohibits: providing food or meals to the indigent for free or a nominal fee in city parks. The ordinance defines an indigent as a "person whom a reasonable ordinary person would believe to be entitled to apply for or receive assistance" from the government under state law.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, a vocal advocate of cracking down on the homeless in city parks, dismisses questions about how the homeless will be identified in order to enforce the ordinance, which is punishable by six months in jail and $1000 fine. "Certain truths are self-evident," Goodman said. "You know who's homeless." Goodman’s own humanity is self- evident with statements like, “I don’t want them there. They’re not going to be there. I’m not going to let it happen. They think I’m mean now; wait until the homeless try to go over there.” In Nov 2005 he suggested in a televised panel discussion that those guilty of graffiti have their thumbs chopped off on television, as well as caning or whipping teen offenders.

The new anti homeless ordinance was prompted by complaints from neighbors of Huntridge Circle Park in Downtown Las Vegas about undesirables gathering and sharing food in the park. They complain that the “soup kitchens” attract the homeless and render the facilities unusable by families. The City’s argument is that feeding people in parks draws them away from social service providers who can meet their other needs, such as treatment for mental health and substance abuse problems.

Advocates argue that services and facilities are often inadequate to meet the needs of Las Vegas 13,000+ homeless and working poor and that outreach is insufficient to connect people with services which are often undignified. Las Vegas Food Not Bombs has been at the park sharing free food, water, clothing and help in locating services every day for the past 14 months.

Food Not Bombs is a national movement started in 1980 with hundreds of autonomous groups whose objective is "sharing free vegetarian food with hungry people and protesting war and poverty." Much of the food that Food Not Bombs shares is food that has been discarded or would otherwise be thrown away.


Several homeless people have recently been arrested in Huntridge Circle Park for violation of park curfew hours. Gail Sacco, of Las Vegas Food Not Bombs, has now been cited twice under a previous ordinance. That ordinance attempts to keep “indigents” from congregating by requiring a permit and insurance for groups larger than 25 individuals to gather in City Parks. Joe Sacco, also of Food Not Bombs, was recently arrested in the park for graffiti while writing “free food” on the sidewalk with big children’s chalk. When Food Not Bombs continued their daily feedings despite this continual harassment, the City quickly enacted the new ordinance to further intimidate the group into leaving the park.

ACLU of Nevada has now filed a Federal lawsuit against Las Vegas City and Police officials charging that the laws violate free speech, free assembly and other rights. The suit was originally filed on behalf of five activists and Las Vegas Food Not Bombs. Local Sonoma County Food Not Bombs members are now joining the lawsuit as plaintiffs. Several members of Northern California’s Sonoma County Food Not Bombs traveled to Las Vegas on August 10th to join in a scheduled protest at Las Vegas City Hall.

During that protest forty to fifty people representing a diverse spectrum of the community gathered at City Hall to openly voice their opposition to the ordinance and share food. The crowd subsequently moved to nearby Frank Wright Park, a city park, to share food in direct defiance of the ordinance. Las Vegas Deputy City Marshals, many of whom refused to identify themselves to observers, ordered participants to cease and desist but did not actively enforce the ordinance at this time.

When it appeared that people in this park had eaten their fill, the food was taken to Huntridge Circle Park. Soon after arriving at the park and food was made available for sharing, City Marshals began enforcement. People gathering to share food were ordered by Marshals to stop eating or face enforcement. Sonoma County Food Not Bombs members Patrick Band and Robert Edmonds were cited under the new ordinance, along with Las Vegas resident Suzie Oliveira. Suzie Oliveira is a Brazilian national who now faces potential Homeland Security visa issues as a result of sharing food.

Those cited have been ordered to appear on October 11th in Las Vegas Municipal Court to answer charges. The summonses read “did willfully or unlawfully provide food or meals to one or more indigent people while within the confines of Huntridge Circle Park as prohibited by LVMC 13.36.055”

Food Not Bombs has been sharing locally in Sonoma County for six years. Hot, free, vegetarian food is offered to all comers every Sunday at 5PM in Santa Rosa’s Courthouse Square. Meals are prepared by volunteers with food that would otherwise go to waste and with donations from individuals. Food Not Bombs calls attention to the inherent contradictions in society's failure to provide food and housing for each of its members. Las Vegas type ordinances can only be stopped from spreading by actively fighting them off now. If you would like more information or to help Sonoma County Food Not Bombs please visit ,

e-mail fnbsantarosa [at] or call 707-292-7642

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