Why Did Fort Lauderdale Police Arrest an Old Man for Feeding Homeless People?

Last Sunday, on November 2nd, 90-year old Arnold Abbott and two other pastors were charged by the Fort Lauderdale Police Department with giving food to hungry people. For Abbott’s crime, he faces 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. The criminal intends to feed hungry people again, and is prepared, he says, to be arrested as many times as the city can cuff his frail wrists.

Objectively, it seems sad and strange. But to Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, it was an open and shut case – and he wasn’t afraid to say it.

“Just because of media attention, we don’t stop enforcing the law. We enforce the laws here in Fort Lauderdale,” Seiler told local news outlet WPLG.

Jailing and harassing the homeless for living on the street is an old practice. But criminalizing actions that help these humans survive seems indicative of a new moral low ground. Naturally, Seiler frames the city’s position as the righteous one.

“Providing [the homeless] with a meal and keeping them in that cycle on the street,” he declared to the Sun Sentinel, “is not productive,” sounding like conservatives who say the poor are poor because they’re spoiled by welfare. But the mayor’s jousting over morality is a distraction. The rationale for Fort Lauderdale’s ordinance has to do with land and money.