Based on the newsflow in the last few weeks, Americans must increasingly consider themselves lucky just to avoid getting shot in the back or being run over by trigger-happy, heavily armed officers of the law. Unfortunately while we (hope we) mostly jest, the reality is that America has quietly turned into a heavily weaponized police state right under everyone's noses. A police state in which one doesn't have to be considered even a remote threat by the authorities to suffer. Consider the completely innocuous act of feeding the homeless, with a permit, which as San Antonio philanthropist Joan Cheever, founder of the nonprofit food truck, the Chow Train, discovered last week was enough to get her ticketed and fined $2000 for feeding the homeless.
What is strange is that neither was this the first time she had acted generously toward the homeless, nor the first time the local police were aware of her actions: for the past 10 years, Cheever has devoted her Tuesday nights to providing hot, restaurant-quality meals to homeless people in the downtown area. SAPD officers would routinely pass by and wave. Often, she jokingly asked if they planned to arrest her, and they laughed. She was profiled on Rachel Ray's cooking show for her charitable efforts.
But everything changed last Tuesday when he got a citation which carries a fine up to $2000 issued by four San Antonio Police Department bike-patrol officers.
According to the San Antonio Express News, while Cheever was in Maverick Park serving a meal that included lamb meatballs, spaghetti, a garden salad and a vegetable soup, SAPD officers cited her for violating the city code, because she transported the food to the park in a vehicle other than the mobile truck for which she has a food permit.
"I told the officer that we cook dinner in the truck and then we put it in health-department-approved catering equipment, like every caterer or restaurant-delivery service in this town, and then serve it. And he said, 'You can’t do that.’"
David Martin Davies, host of “The Source” on Texas Public Radio, witnessed and recorded Cheever’s Tuesday night encounter with the police officers.
“She seemed aware going into it that there was a change in the way the police were acting, and something like this might be coming,” Davies said, adding, “She’s unabashed. She’s not going to back down.”
Cheever is scheduled to go before Municipal Court on June 23, but she remained defiant after receiving the citation, arguing that under the 1999 Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, she has a right to serve food to the homeless because she considers it a free exercise of her religion.
"This is how I pray," she told the local NBC affiliate, "when I cook this food and deliver it to the people who are less fortunate."
The Chow Train founder will be holding a candlelight vigil at Maverick Park Tuesday night to raise awareness about the incident, according to the restaurant’s Facebook page.
What may explain the police's sudden aggression to the philanthropist? According to Express News, the incident is merely the latest incident in a series of homeless crackdowns by the local police.
Over the past year, it’s become increasingly obvious that the city wants its homeless population out of the view of downtown tourists. It wants to push the homeless west of downtown to Haven for Hope, and discourage any acts of compassion that might divert them from that destination.
Last September, then-Police Chief William McManus floated the idea of making it a Class C misdemeanor to give cash to local panhandlers, an example of municipal overreach that met with scorn from the public and was abruptly dropped.
Express-News reporter Benjamin Olivo also reported that benches had been discreetly removed from Houston Street because city staffers worried that the benches led to loitering and panhandling in the area.
“(The city) has already made being poor and homeless a crime,” Cheever said, “and now they’re going after Good Samaritans.
“I always say, 'We’re not working against Haven for Hope, we’re working with them.’ They have a waiting list, and they send their people over to us, and we feed them.”
In a statement by the SAPD, the local police noted that “Haven for Hope is the city’s designated service provider for the homeless population,” and added that Cheever’s citation “was issued for failing to adhere to the Downtown Mobile Food Truck Rules & Regulations. The regulations are in place to ensure public health and safety.”
Perhaps the biggest irony of all is that under the current administration's policies, which have been called socialist by many and are precisely meant to improve the standard of living of the 99% not the 1%, Obama has been eager to demonstrate his emapthy toward the disenfranchised if only in front of the teleprompter. What is sad is that a "progressive" president, one elected precisely to promote acts of philanthropy and kindness (with the Fed funding the cost via trillions in debt monetizations) concurrently allows this kind of behavior by those tasked with enhancing the quality of life for all, not just Goldman's or JPM's rogue traders.
Then again, talking out of both sides of his mouth is perhaps the least of Obama's faults.
Meanwhile, here is Joan Cheever in less troubled days.
From left, volunteer Elaine Olivier, founder/ Chef Joan Cheever, and her husband, Dennis Quinn, prepare dinner before the Chow Train feeds the homeless in partnership with Resurrection Ministries, Tuesday, February 28, 2012.
Joan Cheever, founder of The Chow Train, puts a piece of bread on a plate given to an individual at Maverick Park on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013. Cheever and other volunteers have cooked gourmet-level meals to feed the homeless and the hungry for years. The non-profit group serves meals at various locations around San Antonio and recently served up a Thanksgiving meal to feed the needy. Cheever primarily does the cooking of all the food which she gets from donations.
Ray Salines dines on a plate of feed at a stop by The Chow Train off Austin Highway on Tuesday, Nov. 19 2013.
Joan Cheever (center), founder of The Chow Train, coordinates getting plates of to be served at a location near Austin Highway on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013.
Patrick Harris eats a meal from the Chow Train off Austin Highway. Joan Cheever, who founded the nonprofit food truck, and her team offer free, gourmet-style meals to feed the homeless and the hungry.
Chow Train volunteers Shannon Murphy-Sachanowicz (center) and Diane Sharp (right) fill up bowls of soup to serve at a location off Austin Highway on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013.