Bullhead City Police Department/Institute for Justice/Screenshot by NPR
A 78-year-old woman is suing Bullhead City, Arizona, over her arrest earlier this year for feeding the homeless community at a local public park.
The Institute for Justice wants a federal court to effectively end the city’s ordinance that bars Norma Thornton from feeding hungry people in a public park. Thornton’s attorneys say the order violates several of the woman’s civil rights granted under the 14th Amendment.
Thornton, who has experienced homelessness and food insecurity in her life, visited the community park in Bullhead City for more than four years to bring hot homemade meals to the homeless population of the neighborhood who gather there.
In March, Thornton was pulled over by police and arrested, accused of violating a local ordinance that prohibits sharing prepared food in a public park “for charitable purposes” without a permit.
The Institute for Justice released the body camera footage of the woman’s arrest. In it, a police officer is clearly resisting the arrest of the Arizona grandmother during a call with her supervisor.
The video captures the officer on the phone telling his supervisor, “I think it’s a public relations nightmare, but OK.” Shortly after, he stopped Thornton, although he refused place the handcuffed woman.
Prosecutors eventually dropped his misdemeanor charge, but Thornton’s legal team wants to see the order dropped absolutely.
To continue feeding the city’s homeless at this park under municipal law, Thornton would have to pay to receive a restrictive municipal permit, the Institute for Justice said. The permit would limit Thornton’s operations to a two-hour window only once a month.
The city defended its order in an official response posted on Facebook.
“Individuals are free to serve food to anyone who is homeless at their place of residence, at church, or on private property. Our order applies only to public parks,” Mayor Tom Brady said in a statement. communicated. He went on to say that the city is funding a homeless shelter that can provide two meals a day to the community, while keeping parks clear.
Rising housing costs, inflation, loss of jobs due to the pandemic and the end of the moratorium on COVID-19 evictions have been blamed for a spike in homelessness in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and elsewhere in Arizona. Communities are still struggling to find a viable solution to help homeless people find housing and resources.
For now, Thornton is still feeding the hungry in the area at a temporary site in a private lane near a local business – although this area has no shade or rest areas for people to sit, eat and wash.