According to local media reports, the police arrested members of the group because they did not have a permit to set up tables to serve the food, which is a requirement by the city.
City spokesperson Ashley Bauman told the Tampa Bay Times that a written permit from the city involves an application, fees as well as liability insurance of at least $1 million.
Jimmy Dunson, one of the arrested volunteers, told the newspaper that the insurance cost was why the volunteer group hasn’t applied for the correct permits.
Police said they had warned the group earlier in the week when they were handing out coffee and bagels to some homeless people, that if they returned to the park without a permit, they would be arrested.
“We told them exactly what would happen. And that’s exactly what happened,” said police spokesman Stephen Hegarty.
Bystanders exclaimed “Shame on you!” and “The hunger enforcement officers are here!” to the police.
The organization, which serves food at the park every Tuesday and Saturday, said the last time they clashed with authorities was over a decade ago in 2004, over restrictions that banned feeding homeless people in parks.
Over those 12 years, the group said they haven’t faced any push back from the authorities, prompting them to claim the recent arrests were tied to the 2017 college football National Championships that were held on the same weekend.
“The city has a lot of money hinging on the events this weekend, so we don’t think it’s a coincidence that now is the time they chose to crack down on our food sharings,” said Dunson.
“The city chose to enforce an ordinance that was very obviously aimed at protecting the sight of the suffering of the community – frankly, their failure to address the people that need them the most – from the playoff-goers and the tourists here,” Food Not Bombs volunteer Desiree Lynn told NBC-affiliate WFLA News.
Hegarty denied the timing had anything to do with the football championships.
The seven arrested volunteers were released on their own recognizance and the group was back at the park the following Tuesday.
News cameras captured the moment a group of at least a dozen police officers arrived, threatening the arrest the volunteers with a countdown – a similar tactic they used before the weekend arrests. However this time, the officers backed off and no one was taken into custody.
In an email to Mic, Food Not Bomb’s co-founder Keith McHenry said, “Food Not Bombs will never stop sharing vegan meals with the hungry until war and poverty have ended.”Follow @jennynotjen
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