Sunday, April 26, 2009
Middletown Police Ticket Food Not Bombs
In open defiance of a city Health Department order to cease serving prepared foods to those gathered at their weekly meal, the local Food Not Bombs chapter found themselves visited Sunday by the Health Department and the police.
Three police officers, summoned by Public Health Sanitarian Manfred Rehm, wrote citations to local resident Fred Carroll and Wesleyan junior Michelle Markowitz for serving food to the public without a permit. The citations contain fines of at least $100 and up to $300.
The meal began without incident as Wesleyan students arrived with fruits and vegetables, most of which are excess from the Wesleyan Co-op, and then set up tables to serve salads, rice and a cake.
When Rehn arrived, he saw the prepared food and called in the police.
Middletown Police Officer White arrived first, asking for a responsible party to step forward.
"Who's in charge here," he asked.
"We all are," came the response from several of the people in attendance.
White asked that the prepared foods be taken away, and when they weren't he called reinforcements.
"It's like a cookout," said local resident Martha Allen. "When you cook out in your back yard it's the same damn thing. We're just having a cookout. People are hungry, and they need food. The soup kitchen don't open until 5 o'clock."
Markowitz, who was at the rally with several other Wesleyan students, most members of Food Not Bombs confronted Rehm.
"When there's not enough money, food becomes a privilege, and that isn't good," she said. "Food should be a right, not a privilege."
Despite the presence of the sanitarian and the police, people continued to serve themselves and eat as the city officials tried to determine what to do.
"I used to think there was a food shortage," Markowitz said. "But what I discovered is that there's an excess of food in some parts of society, and that a lot of food goes to waste. This is just re-distribution of food that would be wasted."
"We have so much extra food," said Wesleyan junior Chloe Bolton. "It would be a shame not to share it. And it's a great thing to get together and break bread."
When Police Officers determined that Carroll was at a meeting between the Health Department and Food Not Bombs, he was taken into a police cruiser and issued a ticket. Markowitz, who also took responsibility for delivering food was also cited. She was driven away in the cruiser to fetch her identification from her room at Wesleyan.
The Food Not Bomb members have been warned for weeks that the city considered them to be outside of regulations. They were offered the opportunity to prepare foods in the St. Vincent de Paul kitchen but refused when they were told St. Vincent would have to assume complete liability for the meals served.
"We didn't think it was fair for them to have to take on all the responsibility," Wesleyan student Daniel Schniedewind said. "We don't want to threaten their license or operation."
"I don't think we've ever issued a ticket before," Rehm conceded. "Most people cooperate when they're cited. It's the political agenda of this group. They just don't want to comply. I think they wanted this to happen."
Several of the people partaking of the food were surprised that the city was spending time shutting down the operation.
"When did it become a crime to serve food to hungry people?" Allen asked. "There's got to be other things to worry about at city hall. We're going to keep coming. They'll get tired before we do."
The Food Not Bomb volunteers agreed that they would return next Sunday to share another meal.