Grandma Arrested for Feeding Homeless Sues the City

Is kindness a crime?

This question follows the sad and alarming news of a 78-year-old woman getting arrested in Arizona for feeding homeless people. The woman is now suing the city administration for violating her civil right to do charitable work.

Norma Thonrton, a senior citizen and a grandmother, was taken into police custody in March this year in Bullhead, AZ, and presented before a court in April.

The complaint against her was that of feeding homeless people at a public park. By doing the charitable act of feeding the hungry and poor who live on the streets, Norma had violated a new law that the city of Bullhead had passed the previous year, banning people from sharing home-cooked meals with the homeless at a public park.

To be able to do so, the city ordinance requires a special permit from the administration. 

After she was arrested, Norma was brought before the court and the charges were eventually dropped against her and she did not go to prison for violating the city law – the penalty for which included up to four months in prison.

Norma, who has for years fed homeless people with freshly-prepared meals in various cities across America, out of her compassion, is now challenging the city’s ordinance that led to her arrest.

Her attorneys argue that the ordinance is unfair and unconstitutional because it criminalizes kindness. They also contend that obtaining the permit to feed the homeless is too difficult for an average citizen with limited financial resources.

On the other hand, the Bullhead administration insists that the law prohibiting feeding the homeless at public parks is necessary to keep the parks safe and clean. In addition, it is needed to ensure the safety of the people receiving the food that the food distributor either shares prepackaged food and/or drinks or has a permit so the city administration can make sure the food is prepared and handled in a safe manner.

The public prosecutor for the city decided to drop charges against Norma Thornton after attempts at a plea deal failed. Charges were dropped on the grounds that Norma didn’t understand the new law well enough.

It was not immediately clear whether public parks in Bullhead carry the signs that feeding people without a permit is not allowed in the park area. Signs like these can serve as warnings to people like Norma Thornton who don’t understand the law or are unfamiliar with the legal requirements for acts of charity at public venues.

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