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Arrested for Feeding the Homeless? 5 Outrageous Government Crackdowns on Peaceful Activists

Activists continue to be arrested, assaulted and otherwise harassed by the nation's police and government agencies for participating in nonviolent protests and other actions.

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[I]t’s kind of ironic that we are being subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury, when oftentimes we’re protesting outside of federal buildings, and we’re calling on our legislators and we’re being very vocal and public in our calls for a more just U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. So, I don’t think the government needs to subpoena us to find out what we believe in and what we do. And so, that’s why we think this is really about intimidating our movement and trying to silence our movement, because, you know, they know what we do, and we know what we do is just and peaceful. And what it’s really about is basically trying to silence our very strong and successful movement.

3. Environmental activist faces 10 years in jail for nonviolent effort to save threatened land. This March, environmental activist Tim DeChristopher was convicted of two felony charges for placing a bid on federally owned land that he did not actually have the funds to pay for, with the intention of disrupting oil and gas drilling on the land. What DeChristopher saw as necessary civil disobedience to protect a tract of land from being destroyed, the U.S. government saw as a violation of the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act.

As Tina Gerhardt reported for AlterNet, DeChristopher's actions have been supported by a number of climate scientists, activists and journalists, with author Jeff Biggers arguing that DeChristopher "deserves the medal of freedom, not a prison sentence."

DeChristopher is scheduled for sentencing on July 26.

4. Arrested for feeding the homeless. Earlier this month, the Orlando Sentinel reported that three members of the local chapter of Food Not Bombs, a grassroots anti-war, anti-hunger group, were arrested for violating a city ordinance that puts strict limits on how often organizations can host groups of people in certain Orlando parks.

The group, which has been feeding homeless people breakfast and dinner in Lake Eola Park a few days a week for several years, had been fighting the ordinance in court, arguing that it violates the group's right to free speech and assembly. Orlando Food Not Bombs volunteer Thomas Hellinger explained, "We don't have another place downtown that works like the park. Homeless people have a right to access parks just like anyone else, and it's a nice place to eat. The city tried moving us to other locations in the past, like parking lots and abandoned buildings, but then it comes back to a question of human dignity."

After the city prevailed in court, volunteers Jessica Cross and Benjamin Markeson and Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry were arrested at the next Orlando Food Not Bombs meal; they face 60 days in jail and/or a $500 fine. Since those initial arrests, the group has continued to serve meals in the park, and Food Not Bombs now says a total of 21 volunteers have been arrested. According to People's World, McHenry is calling on activists to travel to Orlando and participate in civil disobedience by helping out with meals, while "solidarity actions" have been planned in Italy, Japan and Detroit.

5. Arrested for dancing. In late May, police officers arrested five activists for participating in a peaceful, flash mob-style protest that involved dancing quietly at the Jefferson Memorial. As the Huffington Post notes, the group was protesting the recent appeals court ruling that "national monuments are places for reflection and contemplation" -- but not dancing, apparently.

The back story:

In 2008, Mary Brooke Oberwetter and a group of friends went to the Jefferson to commemorate the president's 265th birthday by dancing silently, while listening to music on headphones. Park Police ordered the revelers to disperse and arrested them when they did not.

 
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