Just four days after getting handcuffed and placed in the back of a police cruiser for feeding the homeless without a permit, William Payton was at Lykes Gaslight Square Park once again.
Payton works with Food Not Bombs, a group that meets in the park Tuesday mornings and Saturday afternoons to feed those experiencing homelessness. Since 2011, the organization served food without police incident, but Tuesday officers arrested seven members of the group.
Payton and the rest of the volunteers in the gathering were not deterred by the incident.
“I mean, what do you say?” Payton said. “That’s why I’m here again. There are people that need things more than I do.
“We’re not here for notoriety, we’re here to feed people.”
The permit the city would require the group to have in order to continue without trouble would be $91 a day, according to Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The group is not a nonprofit and does not receive donations, so that isn’t an option.
Payton does not blame the police, he said they were just doing what they are supposed to. He hopes the city council will begin to make changes regarding the permit requirement.
Jimmy Dunson, an alum of USF St. Petersburg in 2013, has been involved in both the St. Petersburg and Tampa chapters of Food Not Bombs. He said it’s important to stand up to the criminalization of sharing in Tampa.
Dunson also emphasized that the group is not a charity.
“We have to dismantle that power imbalance. We don’t want us vs. them, we want mutual aid. Solidarity,” Dunson said.
Dunson took to the Food Not Bombs Facebook page to explain why a permit wouldn’t be such a simple fix for them, aside from the money factor.
“We believe that food is a right, not a privilege. We believe sharing food is a right, not a privilege, as a permit would denote. We believe that the people we share food with are worth more than the sustenance our shares offer.”
According to the organization, the government should not have a say in the act of other people sharing a meal.
The group allows anyone in attendance to grab a free plate. Every Tuesday and Sunday, those who will be eating the food help set up and carry from the car, even helping to serve the food.
All of the food is made by group members in their own kitchens, and the rest is donated by local restaurants and bakeries. Everything is either vegan or vegetarian, due to the group’s belief in nonviolence.
The spread Saturday evening consisted of a wide variety of vegan pizza, pastries, and pasta.
Even after being raided by the police, Food Not Bombs is determined to continue bringing food into the park, Dunson said.
“[Tuesday] was a really powerful experience,” Dunson said. “Surrounded by so much love and support, they [Those experiencing homelessness] felt empowered to affirm their human rights.”
After the events with the police and videos of the morning blew up on Facebook, a large number of people turned out to support. They sang Food Not Bombs’ song together, “Love is not a crime, we are not for sale. When the people come together, yes we will not fail.”
There were plenty of signs depicting different messages. Some of them read “Being hungry is not a crime,” “Cops: is this serving and protecting?” and “Sharing shouldn’t require a permit.”
Alejandra Gonzalez Diaz waved a large black flag with a heart in the middle, symbolizing love and anarchy. This was her third Food Not Bombs event, she came out on Saturday to show support.
“It makes me furious. For years I had done it [and] no one had bothered me in the multiple parks I would go to,” Diaz said.
Downtown Tampa hosted two large events last weekend, a free Usher concert and the College Football Playoff National Championship game. Diaz believes that the police interfered with Food Not Bombs so that they could keep the streets clear for tourists.
Diaz hopes the city council will reconsider its position on requiring a permit for food sharing in the park.
“I think it’s in progress. I want to be optimistic and say ‘yes it will change’,” he said.