taking the words of Jesus seriously

An article released last night by News & Observer reporter Colin Campbell revealed that City of Raleigh officials at the highest levels plotted for months to to find “legal” ways to keep people who wish to help the poor out of Moore Square Park.

This is in direct contradiction to public statements by Police Chief Deck-Brown, Community Oriented Government Coordinator Dana Youst, who works for Raleigh Parks and Recreation, and her boss, Diane Sauer, who heads up Parks and Recreation. The consistent message from all of them was that there was no effort to keep poor people out of Moore Square.

In the last three weeks, we have had meetings with all of these people, and all of whom assured us that there was no conspiracy or plot to “clean up” Moore Square, or to only allow the “right” people to enjoy it. We now know that not to be the case, and that as far back as February of this year the Parks and Recreation Department laid the groundwork for such a “clean up.” In a meeting this past Thursday, one of the people mentioned in the article interrupted me mid-sentence to let me know she cared about all the people of Raleigh.

Not, apparently, those who are poor, or those who seek to help them.

The emails also reveal that Sauer changed park policies on the advice of the Raleigh Police Department to allow indiscriminate banning of classes of people, and that she sought legal counsel to find ways to ban food distribution on public sidewalks.

Related: Criminalizing Christ – The Love Wins Incident and the Nationwide Targeting of Homeless – by David R. Henson

Apparently, the Raleigh City Council was not notified of either the policy changes that Sauer implemented, or the desire of Parks and Recreation to ban food distribution.

More Questions

In the past three weeks, we thought we were working with the City to develop answers, but now we are left with only more questions. For example:

– Why are the emails missing for the two weeks prior to our being thrown out of the park? What would those emails show that the City does not want the public to know?

– We are three weeks after the day food distribution was shut down when the Raleigh Police Department threatened to arrest multiple people, from multiple groups, over an entire day. Chief Deck-Brown’s only public comment has been that she told the officers the day before to not arrest anyone. Why will the Raleigh Police Department not acknowledge that the event even happened, let alone hold anyone responsible for disobeying orders?

– It is obvious that there was a long-term plot to criminalize the poor and to run off those who seek to help the poor, despite the consistent assurances by City staff that there was no plot. And now that emails are missing – emails that are part of the public record, by the way – it appears there is an effort to cover that plot up. In light of this, what does interim City Manager Perry James intend to do about it?

– Why was the City Council not notified of policy changes around who Diane Sauer will allow to use city parks? Why did the Raleigh Police Department push for those policy changes?

Choreographed Betrayal

I suppose that if a police officer threatens to arrest a pastor for sharing food with hungry people, I shouldn’t be surprised that other City staff also conspired to push poor folks out of the same public park, or that they conveniently can’t find the emails from the time period of the premeditated crackdown. But this is where we find ourselves, in a City whose staff systematically disenfranchises poor people and writes orders to profile its most vulnerable citizens for the sake of… well, themselves.

When we reported that a Raleigh police officer threatened to arrest me for sharing food on a Moore Square sidewalk,  the world responded, and we have spent the last three weeks building relationships within the City administration as we answer our call to advocacy and reconciliation. Now we understand why the meetings were going so well. The Parks and Recreation staff had more more to hide than we realized, and they wanted to keep it that way.

I have a feeling that the meetings will be more tense from now on.

The City’s next move to satisfy the seemingly predetermined conclusion to their public relations and policy nightmare is a public meeting on Monday, September 16, in Marbles Kids Museum, the president of which openly voiced her disapproval of food distribution in Moore Square at the Law and Public Safety Committee hearing on August 28. She also asserted in her statement that the business the museum has brought to Raleigh is more valuable than the people who hang out in Moore Square.

Oh, and this is the third year in a row that Marbles has received funding from the City of Raleigh Arts Council. So you tell me if this seems choreographed to you.

Because the deck is stacked against us, it’s important that people like you show up at the meeting to support the rights of those of us who are poor. Meeting time and exact location are here.

The meeting’s format will differ from that of a public hearing. What we know is that the audience will split into small groups, each with a facilitator, maps, easels, and a City employee documenting the conversation. We’re not sure who the facilitators will be. The small groups will brainstorm. We’re also not sure where or to whom that information will go.

It’s important to remember that the meeting is only about food distribution. It’s not about shelters, transportation, or health care. Knowing that, a few key ideas to keep in mind while in your small group:

– This is a geographical issue. It is not acceptable that distribution locations exist solely or even primarily in areas off of the bus line, like north Raleigh, or in areas already struggling with poverty, like southeast Raleigh. We will not accept a solution that further pushes poor people out of the downtown core, and we certainly won’t let the City push people into the largely ignored part of town just because it thinks that poor folks already fit in better there anyway.

– The temporary non-enforcement of the ordinance prohibiting sharing food in the park is just that– temporary. Another decision will come at the November 26 City Council meeting. It is by no means a long-term, sustainable solution to ignoring and devaluing Raleigh’s most vulnerable citizens for decades.

– By not already having installed a weekend food distribution solution, the City has shifted the burden to the private sector. Namely, nonprofits and religious groups. The City has refused to claim its most vulnerable citizens, and then it placed constraints on the very people who try to pick up its slack. Most of whom, by the way, are also citizens of Raleigh and pay the taxes to keep up Moore Square. The City needs to take ownership of a weekend food distribution solution instead of disempowering the people who try to show compassion for their hungry neighbors.

Also by Hugh: Feeding Homeless Apparently Illegal in Raleigh, NC

At some point the City will form a task force of interested organizations that will meet three times before the November 26 City Council meeting. The task force will make recommendations to the City Council on how it should handle the apparently very complicated issue of making sure that all of its citizens are taken care of.

Remaining Hopeful

We are, as you can imagine, beyond frustrated. No one likes being lied to. No one likes being the target of a systemic plot to keep you out. No one likes to think they live in a city where that would be tolerated, let alone carried out by City officials.

Regardless, we remain prisoners of hope. We hope that the City will call the plotters into account. We hope for the day when the only hope of the hungry is not some church lady from the ‘burbs to bring a sandwich. Heck, we hope for a day when there are no hungry. But right now, we are just captivated with the hope that one day we will see a Raleigh that is for everyone.

Photo Credit: Hugh Hollowell/Love Wins Ministries

About The Author


Hugh Hollowell is a blogger, speaker and Minister in the Mennonite Church USA. He is the Director of Love Wins Ministries, a ministry of presence and pastoral care to the homeless and housing vulnerable population of Raleigh, North Carolina, which he helped found in 2007. Hugh speaks to thousands annually, at college chapels, festivals, weekend retreats, and conferences on topics around Faith, Justice and Loving Relationships. Hugh & his wife Renee live in downtown Raleigh, where they co-parent three cats and four chickens.

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