food not bombs files first amendment lawsuit against city of flagstaff, arizona

by Tim Phillips

An Arizona state law makes it a crime to be “present in a public place to beg.” The Flagstaff Police Department and City Attorney have aggressively enforced this law. Such enforcement negatively impacts Food Not Bombs (FNB), according to a lawsuit the organization filed yesterday:

FNB members have become hesitant to participate in organizational activities and services due to the regular presence of police officers on the periphery of the feeding site and … the awareness that Flagstaff is arresting and prosecuting persons for asking for donations for food. FNB members who have experienced threats about and arrests for begging are particularly reluctant to enter into, and participate in activities in, areas with a Flagstaff Police department presence. As a result, FNB has experienced a loss of membership and a reduction in its capacity to serve the poor and hungry in Flagstaff.

Several FNB members have apparently been arrested for requesting donations from passersby. The American Civil Liberties Union represents FNB in the lawsuit, in addition to three people who have been arrested, threatened with arrest, or who fear being arrested for “loitering to beg.”