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Shefights.net : A sequel to Bum Fights

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Hate Crimes

As of April 1, 2011 two homeless residents, George Grayson and Kyle Shaw of St. Petersburg, Florida are suing J.P Florida Productions, its owner Jeffery Williams as well as six female employees of the production company which is responsible for the videos posted and sold on shefights.net.  A temporary restraining order has been enacted and all eight defendants are each facing four charges including;  violation of the Florida Hate Crimes Act, violation of the Civil Remedies for Criminal Practice, Battery and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.

NCH’s own AmeriCorps*Vista volunteer G.W. Rolle who is based in St. Petersburg noticed a large number of homeless men walking around with limps, black eyes and other visible wounds beginning early this year.  After many inquiries he finally was told about a series of “beatdowns” being carried out by women associated with shefights.net.  This company (J.P. Florida Productions) would recruit homeless men to participate in their fights after which they would be paid up to $50.00 for enduring the twelve minutes of non-stop beating by scantly clad women.

Several years ago, NCH mounted a campaign against a similar groups of videos that were released under the name, BumFights.  These videos included homeless men beating each other up and performing dangerous stunts like banging their head through glass windows and going down stairs in a shopping cart. Rufus Hannah, now an NCH Speaker, and others who were compensated with a few dollars or a beer, suffered severe injuries as a result of the videos.  In a 60 Minutes investigation in 2006, a link was made between the BumFights videos, and youth who were “copying” what they saw in the videos, leading to random violence against people who were homeless.

According to the defendant in the shefights.net case, the plaintiffs signed releases before they were beaten.  However, neither Mr. Grayson nor Mr. Shaw ever had any knowledge that videos of the beatings were going to be posted or sold on the internet, in some cases for upwards of $600.  Also the severity of the beatings was way beyond their expectations.  During many of the beating the men were tied up, thus unable to fight back at all.  Both plaintiffs have suffered severe injuries ranging from a dislocated jaw, to severe torso bruising to lacerations caused by whipping.  Not to mention that after several of the beating the plaintiffs were never paid the money that they were promised.

According to an article published in the St. Petersburg Times on Tuesday April 12, the defendant, Mr. Williams, was quoted saying that he planned to counter sue claiming that the plaintiffs and their advocates lied and damaged his reputation.  He also said “These men are crack addicts and will say anything for money.”

Legal counsel for Mr. Shaw and Mr. Grayson believe that the reason these men were targeted by shefights.net was because they were homeless and vulnerable. Hence, Section 775.085 Florida Statue also know has as the Hate Crimes Act has been invoked on behalf of the plaintiffs.   A law that the National Coalition for the Homeless had a major hand in helping pass through the state legislature in the spring of 2010.  This is the first time since October 1, 2010 when the act took effect that it has been invoked.  Specifically the suit claims “Defendants chose to solicit, assault, and batter Plaintiffs because they were homeless, and Plaintiffs suffered injuries so severe as to evidence a hatred and contempt for people who are homeless.”

-Allison Sauls, Spring 2011 Intern

“Voluntary Hunger in Protest of Involuntary Hunger”

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Civil Rights, Policy Advocacy

By: Brian Stone

Today, it seems as though there is normalized acceptance of a segment of our population not having enough food or shelter. The proof is last week’s budget cuts which will push those without food, homes and medical care into deeper despair. It is important that we remember what hangs in the balance. In the past, the anti-hunger and poverty movement has responded in a multitude of ways. One of those is known as a hunger fast (or strike) to draw public awareness to the issues the poor face and create policy change.

In the 1980’s Michael Stoops, Director of Community Organizing at NCH, and Mitch Snyder, a life-time advocate for the homeless, fasted on the steps of the Capitol Building to pressure President Reagan into signing the first legislative protection for homeless people, which eventually became the McKinney-Vento Act. This act provided blanket protection and assistance to the homeless. Mitch and other advocates also fasted to get the federal government to transform an abandoned federal building in D.C. into a shelter for the homeless. Out of this fast the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV) emerged, and remains D.C.’s largest shelter.

Former Ambassador Tony Hall has an unwavering commitment to poor people and poverty issues. While in Congress, Hall frequently authored legislation with expansive protections for the poor and vulnerable. In 1993, Hall, who was an Ohio Congressman at the time, was dismayed by Congress’s decision to end the bi-partisan House Select Committee on Hunger. This resulted in his going on a 22-day hunger fast. He felt that Congress had lost sight of the issues that our most vulnerable face. The outcome of this fast was substantial. Congress agreed to fund the Congressional Hunger Center, of which I am honored to be a 17th Class fellow; and the World Bank pledged to support efforts to end world hunger.

Eighteen years later Hall feels that Congress has once again lost sight of the plight of the poor, those who stand to bare the brunt of the budget cuts. On March 28, 2011, Hall embarked on another fast to protest the current budget cuts. If you would like to join Tony Hall or get more information on the fast, check out: http://hungerfast.org/.

We must remember that people’s lives hang in the balance. What is more important than cuts made in the name of lowering the deficit is the impact that those cuts will have on a large group of people. Balancing the budget at the expense of the poor and vulnerable is not the answer. This will only prove to further complicate the lives of those who currently don’t have enough, with the likely end result being eventual increases in social support programs.

Hunger fasts, like Michael’s, Mitch’s, Tony’s and many others, have provided protections for the vulnerable and changed policy in the U.S. The time is now. Will you join the circle of protection around the most vulnerable members of our society?

Brian is a Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellow with the Civil Rights division at the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Is it legal to restrict food-sharing?

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Criminalization, Food Sharing

By Jackie Dowd

The food-sharing in downtown Orlando went on as usual last Wednesday night, despite the decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the city’s ordinance restricting groups and individuals from sharing food with homeless and hungry people in public parks.

The 2-1 ruling, handed down on July 6, overturned a trial court’s determination that the food-sharing events were expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment. The federal appeals court found that the likelihood was not great that a reasonable observer would understand Orlando Food Not Bombs’ conduct of simply feeding people to be “truly communicative.”

The court also ruled that the ordinance does not violate the right to free exercise of religion by the First Vagabonds Church of God, a ministry by and for the homeless. The ordinance applies to about 40 of Orlando’s 99 parks, and limits food-sharing events to two per park per year.

In the wake of the court decision: What’s next?

Way back at the beginning of this case, we told ourselves: “If we win, then we win. But even if we lose, we win.”

That’s because even then, in the summer of 2006, we were thinking about the big picture. What the First Vagabonds Church of God v. City of Orlando lawsuit accomplished was to bring the discussion of homelessness and poverty out into the open in Orlando, in a way that it never has before. Making sure that discussion continues is vitally important, and that will be an important consideration in deciding what the next steps will be.

There are several legal options, such as seeking a rehearing before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. We have a few more days to decide exactly what to do.

Many people have asked why we didn’t pursue a freedom of assembly claim. At the beginning of the case, we did assert that the ordinance violated the right to freedom of assembly. But the trial judge ruled for the city on that claim, determining that the members of Food Not Bombs and their homeless friends are free to assemble in the park so long as they do not serve food.

There also are options outside the courtroom. Perhaps the most important is making sure the food-sharings continue, as they have every Wednesday evening for more than five years.

Moving to outside the restricted zone (a 2-mile radius of City Hall) is being discussed. While there are good reasons for staying at Lake Eola Park, the members of Orlando Food Not Bombs are concerned about the impact of increased police scrutiny on the homeless and hungry folks they are helping. Many of the people who come to eat a healthy vegan meal have outstanding warrants or other issues with law enforcement. In past, attendance has been low when police are present at the food-sharing.

Lake Eola Park – often described as the “crown jewel” of Orlando’s 99 parks – was chosen for its symbolic value in conveying a message to the upper-middle class folks who live and work in what is often described as a gentrified area of downtown. In many ways, that message has been delivered.

Continuing the public discussion of homelessness and poverty may be the most important item on our “to do” list. Food Not Bombs will be meeting with other groups that have been using the park for sharing food, looking at the big picture and planning ways to build stronger community and political will to reduce homelessness and poverty.

And there’s an even bigger picture to keep in mind. The United States does not guarantee its citizens the right to food. Twenty-two other countries have enshrined the right to food in their constitutions, either for all citizens or specifically for children. Our friends at the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty have been working hard to promote the right to housing set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family including … housing.”

So there’s a lot of work still to do. The food-sharings will continue and we will be working toward some larger goals, too.

The silver lining here may be that the continued sense of injustice in the wake of the 11th Circuit’s decision just may help us accomplish our larger goals.

Resources:
National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) and National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty’s (NLCHP) Food Sharing Report

NLCHP’s information page on housing and other human rights

Opinion piece about the court decision

Jackie Dowd is an NCH AmeriCorps*VISTA Member and Volunteer Lawyer who coordinates the Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau in conjunction with the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida in Orlando. Check out Jackie’s blog on homeless and other social justice issues at http://www.jackiedowd.blogspot.com/

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