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Three feeding the homeless arrested in park

Members of Tampa Food Not Bombs were warned previously that they needed permits and insurance.

Published April 19, 2004

TAMPA - Police arrested three activists Sunday accused of violating a city policy by feeding the homeless at a downtown Tampa park.

Amberly Banks, 22, of Tampa, James Dunson, 19, of Lutz, and Christopher Ernesto, 40, of St. Petersburg remained at the Orient Road Jail Sunday night, according to jail records. Each is charged with trespassing. Dunson also faces a charge of obstructing or opposing an officer without force, his charge report said.

It was unclear Sunday why officers arrested only three of the group of about eight people, activists said.

Banks and Ernesto were held in lieu of $500 bail each. Dunson's bail was set at $1,000.

The three participated Sunday with Tampa Food Not Bombs, a group that regularly feeds the homeless at Herman C. Massey Park, at 1002 N Franklin St.

For months, police have warned Food Not Bombs participants that their actions were illegal. At least twice, police handcuffed members of the group but released them with a warning, said Monte Hurd, a 29-year-old activist from Clearwater.

"This time, they actually took them to jail," Hurd, a computer software engineer, said Sunday. "It's such a depressing situation."

Anthony Schmidt, a 20-year-old anthropology major at the University of South Florida, said the police were waiting Sunday when the group arrived at the park about 1 p.m.

"Two police cruisers were waiting there," he said. "We weren't sure what to do. Usually, they come after we get there, or they don't come at all."

Schmidt and the group set up their buffet, as usual, of home-cooked food: refried beans, Spanish rice, stir fry and chili.

Police stopped the feeding before the group could pass out fajitas.

In order to feed the homeless, the group must apply for a $100 permit through the Parks & Recreation Department. The city also requires the group to have insurance.

Even then, they can't just give the food away, Schmidt said. They must sell it.

The city's special event application, which officers gave to Food Not Bombs members, says, "Food and drinks cannot be given away to the public." It says the group must apply for a vending permit.

Mayor Pam Iorio has said the city's parks aren't properly equipped for feeding the homeless. She urged the group to join more established organizations with a similar mission, such as Metropolitan Ministries.

Food Not Bombs plans to protest the arrests today at 8 a.m. outside the Hillsborough County Courthouse.

- Kevin Graham can be reached at 813 226-3433 or

[Last modified April 19, 2004, 01:05:27]

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