Tensions in Fort Lauderdale have been on the rise since the city's commissioners implemented the homeless feeding ordinance back in November. Since then, we've seen a 90-year-old war veteran cited several times for feeding the homeless, advocate arrests, protests at the mayor's house, and national ridicule fall upon the city of Fort Lauderdale. And then things seem to have come to a head this week when a Fort Lauderdale Police officer was caught on video slapping a homeless man who wanted to use a public restroom. New Times reported on the video of officer Victor Ramirez, who has been suspended with pay for slapping 58-year-old homeless man Bruce Laclair on Monday, and the video has since gone viral.
Advocates have been warning the commission for some time that the public feeding ordinance would bring about tension throughout the community, and now there's a plan to not only protest the Fort Lauderdale Police Department but also to call for Ramirez's job.
The FLPD: Stop the Brutality protest, put together by homeless advocates, is scheduled for this Saturday. The protest is calling for residents to show up to the Fort Lauderdale Police department, located at 1300 W Broward Blvd., at 11:00 a.m. with signs condemning the abuse.
The incident between Officer Ramirez and Mr. Laclair is the main motivation behind the protest, though it's one of what has been an ongoing line of civic expression over the city's public feeding ordinance.
In November, a rally was held at the Federal Courthouse to protest the ordinance. Arnold Abbott, the 90-year-old homeless advocate who had become the face of the city's unrest over the ordinance, spoke at the rally. Weeks before that, around sixty people lined the street outside Mayor Jack Seiler's home to protest the ordinance.
Since then, there has been a Vote Jack Seiler Out of Office rally, and just last month, the homeless advocate group Food Not Bombs filed a federal lawsuit against Fort Lauderdale over the ordinance.
This week's protest once again will call for the city to revoke the ordinance, while also calling for Officer Ramirez's job, according to rally organizer Jeff Weinberger.
The rally will have a letter for those in attendance to sign, addressed to Chief Franklin Adderley, to fire Ramirez.
For their part, the city has always defended the ordinance as a way to help the homeless, rather than harm them. The ordinance specifically places restrictions on the sharing of food at outdoor sites. The restrictions also require that feedings be located 500 feet from any residence and that feeders provide portable toilets. While the city has put a temporary stay on citing feedings, it still contends it wants to find a solution to direct the homeless to social services, rather than seeing them on the streets.
According to Frank Pontillio, one of the protest's organizers, this is not accurate.
"There are not enough shelter beds to accommodate all the homeless," he tells New Times. "And shelter beds are a temporary shelter anyway. There is also a lack of long term housing and facilities to house the mentally ill. So saying they want to direct these folks to social services is not factually correct because they do not exist."
Pontillo, who serves the homeless through his church, has warned the city's commissioners that a peaceful solution needs to be figured out. A week before the Ramirez incident, Pontillo went before the commissioners to warn them that things were getting tense.
The FLPD: Stop the Brutality rally will begin at 11:00 a.m. Saturday outside the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. You can visit the group's Facebook page for more info.
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