We the people

A periodic photo column exploring our constitutional rights in everyday action.

Published February 11, 2007

First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law ... abridging ... the right of the people peaceably to assemble ..." 

On a recent December night - long before the St. Petersburg homeless tent cities made headlines day after day - roughly 30 homeless people peacefully gathered on the small piece of private property squeezed between the entrance to Tampa's Sacred Heart Catholic Church and a public sidewalk off Florida Avenue. They had few options. Tampa fenced off nearby Herman Massey Park, where many used to sleep, more than a year ago. Tampa police stopped a group from feeding the homeless in Curtis Hixon Park. "They're trying to get rid of all the homeless ... the city ... the city workers ... the police," Rick Jackson said while resting outside the church. "They should leave us alone. We ain't doing nothing but sitting." Jackson is 53, and like many homeless, has a troubled past. Some wrestle with mental illness, alcoholism, drug addiction. They are arrested and charged with trespassing, stealing, disorderly conduct. Society may write them off, push them to the side, leave them to fend for themselves. But they are welcome on the doorstep of this church. Here, the police cannot tell them to leave. The city cannot prevent them from being fed.