As It Happens

These San Diego activists were arrested for feeding homeless people in a park

Shane Parmely and her 14-year-old were among 12 people arrested in El Cajon, Calif., for breaking an ordinance that prohibits food sharing on city-owned property.
Shane Parmely and her child Ever were arrested for defying a city ordinance to feed the homeless. (Shane Parmely/Facebook )
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Shane Parmely and her 14-year-old child were among a dozen people arrested in El Cajon, Calif., for breaking a local ordinance that prohibits the distribution of food on city-owned property.

Parmely is a volunteer with the Break the Ban, an activist organization that set up tables to hand out food and toiletries in Wells Park on Sunday with the express purpose of defying the food-sharing ban in the San Diego County city.

"This is part of a longterm legal strategy that is used in most civil rights movements," Parmely told As It Happens host Carol Off. "You have to be arrested and you have to fight it in court."

The city council unanimously passed the ordinance in October, calling it a safety precaution to combat a hepatitis A outbreak that has killed 20 people in the past year — the worst epidemic of its kind in the U.S. in 20 years.

But Parmely said people aren't being punished for sharing food at other events in the park, such as birthday parties or picnics.

"That's the hypocrisy," she said. "They're using the excuse of public safety to target one group of people while saying everyone else is magically immune from hepatitis A within the same space."

Members of Break the Ban handed out food at Wells Park in El Cajon, Calif., on Sunday before the police showed up to shut the event down. (Shane Parmely/Facebook )

Several videos of the arrests were posted to Facebook.

Twelve people, including Parmely's 14-year-old child Ever, were charged with misdemeanours for violating the municipal code.

The activists were all issued citations to appear in court. Nobody was handcuffed or jailed.

"This park is part of city property so you aren't allowed to food share," on officer can be heard saying. "If you guys continue to food share, then you guys are subject to arrest, all right?"

City officials could not be reached for comment on Monday as offices were closed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

But Coun. Ben Kalasho told NBC 7 in November that "feeding [homeless people] at city parks is a bad idea given the situation that we're in with the hepatitis A outbreak and the fact that it makes the place completely messy afterward."

"You can go out there, pick them up, take them back to your house and feed them and board them and room them and have them take a shower if you're really wanting to help," he said.

From left to right, activists Parmely, Ever and Mark Lane hold up their citations for breaking a city ordinance that prohibits food sharing in public spaces. (Shane Parmely/Facebook )

Parmely said Kalasho's statement about making a mess is more proof the ordinance is about punishing the homeless, not protecting the public.

"My sister-in-law is mentally ill and she was homeless in El Cajon for nine months and she's actually missing in Arizona right now. She's been missing for two years," Parmely said, choking back a sob.

"So it really hurts my heart that people in positions of power and authority are turning a back on our homeless veterans, they're turning a back on mentally unstable people who need some help."

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