When Arnold Abbot signed up to serve his country during World War II, there is little doubt as to what he was looking to do. He as almost every soldier before him and since, was surely looking to defend his country and the ideals it represents. He was looking to fight back against the fascist governments looking to exterminate those that weren’t made in their “ideal image,” to destroy the notion of a government anointing certain swaths of the population as second-class citizens, and to show the world that there is some true good amidst all the tyranny. After Arnold’s recent ordeals, however, it’s hard to think that this was the same set of ideals he was looking to defend.
More than 20 years ago, long after he completed the service to his country in the armed forces, Arnold Abbot knew he wanted to continue to make the world a better place. So Abbot started a group called Love Thy Neighbor, whose mission was to help those most in need. Abbot and his foundation made it their calling to feed the homeless, those people who had so little in this world that they never knew where their next meal was coming from.
It’s probably no coincidence that, with Abbot’s service record and genuinely good heart, many of the people he fed for more than 20 years were veterans themselves. People who, just like him, signed up to defend their country, only to find themselves homeless years later. The reasons for their misfortune are many, but the need for compassion is unquestioned no matter their circumstances. Abbot believes this, and took the steps to do everything he could to help.
For the better part of two decades, Abbot and his foundation fed the homeless in his home town of Fort Lauderdale Florida. For the better part of two decades, Abbot had no problems with the law. But all that changed earlier this month. Thanks to a new law, enacted by the Fort Lauderdale City Commission, Abbot and his foundation were now criminals.
The new law, passed on October 22nd, is an attempt to lessen the number of places that the homeless can be fed. The new law states that any group feeding the homeless must be at least 500 feet away from residential properties, must have portable toilets, and there can be no more than one site per city block, according to this article from The Independent. The law effectively bans the public feeding of the homeless throughout the entire county, and the penalties could be up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine for each offense.
Abbot was undeterred by the new laws, insisting that feeding the homeless was his right and responsibility. Police officers disagreed with Abbot, arresting him earlier this week as he and several volunteers handed out food in Fort Lauderdale. Undeterred by his arrest, Abbot was back on the street the next day, feeding the homeless. Once again, he was arrested for this “offense.”
“I went through World War II,” Abbot told reporters with the Broward-Palm Beach New Times. “I fought in the Civil Rights movement. This won’t stop us. All this did was move us to court earlier than we had planned.”
Abbot, who continues to serve his country in the best way he knows how, now awaits his court date, where he will challenge the lawmakers who have made his acts-of-kindness illegal. In the meantime, he will continue to be the embodiment of veterans everywhere, standing up for what he knows is right, defending those that need it the most, and serving his countrymen and women food, no matter what the laws tell him to do.
By Brett Gillin