Locals fighting tickets they got for feeding the homeless - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Locals fighting tickets they got for feeding the homeless

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EL CAJON (NEWS 8/CNS) - The city of El Cajon is responding to backlash after 12 people were given citations for handing out food to the homeless.  

The activists were arrested for violating a municipal ban on feeding the homeless in public spaces and will ask to have the cases against them dismissed, and they expect to file lawsuits against the city, one of the arrestees said Monday.  
 
"The law is unconstitutional and infringes on our freedom of speech," said Mark Lane, an organizer for Break the Ban. 
 
The arrests occurred Sunday afternoon at Wells Park on East Madison Avenue next to El Cajon Valley High School during an event organized by Break the Ban, according to Lane and Shane Parmely, another organizer. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that a second group, Food Not Bombs, and other activists were also involved in the event. 

One woman and her 14-year-old daughter were among those cited.  

"It is a huge waste of El Cajon taxpayer dollars out here today," she said. 
 
Break the Ban was created 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 advocacy groups like Break the Ban said "the law is unconstitutional and discriminatory" and promised to "continue to fight to have the ordinance overturned." 
 
El Cajon city spokeswoman Monica Zech issued a statement Monday afternoon defending the arrests and saying the city has worked with community groups that have historically fed the homeless and "took strides" to inform the public of places where food can be served and distributed legally. 
 
"The city simply enforced the urgency ordinance, as it indicated it would, subsequent to substantial warnings over the past several weeks," Zech said. 

On Tuesday, El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells addressed what happened. 

"The way it's being portrayed is if you went and gave a sandwich to a homeless person a police officer would come up and arrest you - that's not the case whatsoever," Wells said. 

He continued to stress that the ban is in place to prevent the spread of hepatitis A and he says there are still over a dozen places homeless people can get food.  

The ACLU however calls the ban unconstitutional.  

 A spokesperson released a statement that said in part:  

..banning food-sharing for charitable purposes will not mitigate the public health crisis. what the controversial ordinance does is infringe on the constitutional rights of benevolent El Cajon residents and visitors, and deny food to people who may otherwise go hungry.

"All their sole purpose is to get headlines to get people to focus on their agenda, which is a homeless rights agenda," said Mayor Wells.  

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. 

Several dozen other people supporting the group but not seen actively passing out food were not arrested or cited. 

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.

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