An elderly woman’s selfless act of feeding the homeless lands her in hot water with the law, igniting a fierce debate over compassion and bureaucracy.
A 78-year-old retired restaurant owner finds herself arrested by Arizona law enforcement for her selfless act of feeding homeless people in a public park without a permit. Norma Thornton, inspired to aid her community, began distributing food to the homeless at Bullhead City Community Park in March 2022. Her arrest on March 8, 2022, led her to declare, “This city has criminalized kindness.”
Thornton’s arrest resulted from her failure to obtain a permit for distributing home-cooked food in the park. Now, she is filing a lawsuit against Bullhead City, seeking a federal judge to overturn the ordinance that prohibits feeding homeless individuals in the park. Her suit contends that acquiring the necessary permits is “extremely burdensome” and violates residents’ Fourteenth Amendment rights.
The 2021 ordinance demands that residents pay $1,000,000 in liability insurance, a fee, and a deposit to secure a permit allowing them to give food to the homeless in the city park.
Applications for permits must be submitted between five and sixty days before the event. Each permit is only valid for two hours, and a single person can only obtain one permit every thirty days. The city appears to be deliberately obstructing efforts to help homeless citizens.
Attorneys from the Institute of Justice argue that “on top of that, no two permittees may use the same location within 30 days of each other — meaning that, at maximum, the city might allow the charitable sharing of food in one park for two hours, once a month.” Attorney Diana Simpson has captured the essence of the situation by stating, “the city has criminalized kindness” in Arizona.
Simpson adds, “People have a fundamental right to feed those in need, and have been doing so for the entirety of human history.” However, city officials maintain their stance on the restrictive ordinance, suggesting that people can feed the homeless on private property or use non-homecooked food if they choose to do so in a public park.
Thornton, who has been providing food for those in need and homeless individuals for four years, relocated to Arizona from Alaska in search of warmer weather. She quickly discovered a homelessness crisis in the Arizona town, unlike anything she had ever witnessed before.
“The thought of people being hungry — I mean I’m not making a big impact,” she said in a video by the Institute of Justice, “but at least some people have enough food to survive.”
Upon being taken to the police station for fingerprinting, an officer informed Thornton that she was “lucky” not to be jailed for feeding the homeless. He warned her that a repeat offense would likely result in at least one night in jail.
Facing the possibility of four months in prison, a fine of up to $1,431, and a two-year probation period, Thornton remained resolute in her mission, stating in the video posted by the law firm, “I’m never going to stop feeding them. Never.”
WATCH the video below for more details: