See below a story about a segment we did on ON THE RECORD at 7pm.
Couple’s fine for feeding homeless puts Daytona Beach in the news worldwide
By Andrew Gant
Published: Thursday, May 15, 2014
The story of Chico and Debbie Jimenez has gone far beyond Daytona Beach. One night this week, the local couple sat down for an interview on national TV with this screen bar: “FINED FOR FEEDING HOMELESS.”
That was “On the Record” with Greta Van Susteren on Fox News. Before that, the Jimenezes were in The Daily Mail in London and on the NBC News website. Al Jazeera America called them. The progressive website ThinkProgress.org ran a story.
Daytona Beach’s fines against the New Smyrna Beach couple and four volunteers for illegally feeding the poor in a city park have generated more attention than anyone anticipated.
“The outpouring has been amazing all over the world,” Debbie Jimenez said Wednesday. “The U.K., Uganda, South Wales… all these places, people are sending us messages and wanting to know how they can help.”
Police gave the Jimenezes and their friends citations last week as they fed a large group at Manatee Island Park downtown, something they’ve been doing weekly for the past year. Each ticket carried a total fine of about $375 for trespassing and using a city facility without a permit. The park has a sign that warns “feeding programs” are illegal, and police said they issued verbal warnings in the past. (The Jimenezes insist to this day they’ve never been warned.)
The original story in The News-Journal quickly spread across the country. This week, Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood said he’s been inundated with messages, too.
“A lot of the responses I’m getting are from people in Minnesota or New Hampshire who have no idea what we’re talking about in Daytona Beach, no idea about downtown, no idea about the business community,” Chitwood said Wednesday. “Some of it is just people, they read something, and they’re like sheep: ‘Oh my God, these people are being persecuted.’ No, they’re not.”
The no-feeding law is part of the city’s strategy to keep help for the poor and homeless confined to social services agencies rather than public areas. It’s widely considered a critical issue in Daytona Beach’s downtown, which has struggled to become the kind of vibrant business district city leaders have imagined. Manatee Island is just off Beach Street, downtown’s main thoroughfare, between the Main Street and International Speedway Boulevard bridges.
At the same time, steep fines against people who are only out to feed the hungry are seen by many as unnecessarily harsh. Other cities have cracked down on feedings with similar justification and similar public outcry. The Jimenezes and their friends have said they won’t go back to Manatee park — they’re banned from it — but they shouldn’t be punished with fines.
Chitwood said Wednesday he might consider asking a judge to dismiss the citations if he was convinced the Jimenezes understood the city’s stance and agreed to work with social agencies instead.
“There’s a possibility,” he said. “At the end of the day, this isn’t about making money or collecting a fine. We’re trying to bring Beach Street back… Nobody in the world is saying don’t do acts of kindness and charity. I’m not disputing what he’s trying to do. What he’s trying to do is noble. But nobility can go a little bit off the chart here.”
Chitwood pointed out that the park has a children’s playground. The feedings attract dozens of people to the park who wouldn’t otherwise be there. Some of them could have criminal backgrounds. He pointed out that Chico Jimenez has done prison time in other states, a past that Jimenez has acknowledged.
The Jimenezes quit their jobs to run their small ministry, Spread the Word Without Saying a Word, and they have said God provides the resources they need to keep it going.
For now, they have free legal help. An Ormond Beach attorney, Anita Lapidus, contacted the couple and agreed to represent them for free after she saw their story.
“Right now we’re doing some research,” she said Wednesday. “I’m going to meet with any of the defendants who want to meet with me, and we’re going to agree on a strategy. But I’m also hoping that the city will be amenable to dropping the charges since these people have nothing but good will in their hearts.”
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