When the group Tampa Food Not Bombs began passing out a free breakfast in Lykes Gaslight Square Park to those suffering from homelessness they knew they didn’t have a permit from the city to be there. They had been warned in the days prior that setting up chairs or tables in the park would lead to their arrest. Nevertheless, the group still chose to show up and serve.
The strict permit law is by no means new. However, Tampa police have always turned a blind eye to those doing a charitable deed. That story apparently changes when 75,000 to 100,000 visitors decide to spend the weekend in the city by the bay.
Instead of allowing the organization to provide meals to those in need on Saturday like it has done twice a week for years, the police shut down the event and arrested 7 volunteers.
This isn’t the first time Tampa police have attempted to “clean up” the city prior to a large event. In 2011, the congregation at a local church was also warned to stop providing free meals due to not having a permit. The threat just so happened to coincide with the 2012 Republican national convention coming to town.
We get it. Having men and women huddled under archways or gathering in a park for sustenance dampens the thriving and cheerful aesthetic Tampa has worked so hard to achieve. We see the same response happen across the world every time there is an Olympics or a major event highlighting a specific area. Tampa’s unmerciful actions are by no means unique.
But that doesn’t make them permissible. Seven men and women were arrested for ensuring their neighbors, their fellow Tampanians had some semblance of food in their system during the bitterly cold weekend.
Yes, a park was occupied and tables were set up without the city’s permission. But those tables were not being used to assemble protest equipment, they were simply holding bagels. For the past several years that has been OK.
If the city wishes to defend itself for the arrests then it should do so truthfully. Don’t cower behind the smokescreen tale of permit violations. Stand up and say the city’s image is tarnished when the poor who the city couldn’t help wander the streets.
Yet city spokesman Ashley Bauman insists the arrests "had nothing whatsoever to do with the game."
On Tuesday, when the group showed up once again with food they were joined by a group of police officers who insisted they stop the event. The volunteers linked arms and despite their threats the police moved on.
After all, the game was won the night before. If there’s no one in town to impress it’s fine to admit there are people in need living within Tampa’s borders.