She was arrested and threatened with jail time, however, she still continues to feed the people in need in any way possible.
Most people who carry out acts of kindness expect nothing in return and only want to give back to the people in need. Then there are people who are ready to put themselves in jeopardy in order to help those in need. Norma Thornton, a grandmother from Bullhead City, Arizona, has made it her life mission to feed the homeless in her area. However, in March this year, the 78-year-old was arrested for giving away food, according to Arizona's Family. Thornton was a restaurant owner for many years before retiring to Arizona. She decided to use her cooking skills and experience to help those who struggle to find proper meals. Spending afternoons preparing delicious and nutritious food from scratch, she gave out free food in the park to those in need for about four years before being arrested for her kindness.
Because the law applies only to sharing food for a “charitable purpose,” Norma could throw a pizza party in Community Park for 50 of her friends without limitation.— Institute for Justice (@IJ) October 25, 2022
But since Norma's purposes are “charitable,” she’s breaking the law. pic.twitter.com/5oCsOJmCa3
Bullhead City law prohibits giving food to the homeless in public. Thornton and her attorneys are now bringing a lawsuit as part of a larger countrywide movement to allow citizens to feed those in need. Suranjan San, from the Institute for Justice, said, "This case is about kindness. Bullhead City has criminalized kindness. The city council passed an ordinance that makes it a crime punishable by four months imprisonment to share food in public parks for charitable purposes."
🚨New Case🚨— Institute for Justice (@IJ) October 25, 2022
Today, a 78-year-old grandmother sued Bullhead City, AZ after officials arrested her, prosecuted her, and threatened to jail her for feeding homeless people in a park.
Thornton's passion for feeding people in need became illegal in 2021. San explained, "At a city council meeting, the city attorney made it crystal clear. You may host a pizza party in the park for 50 people or a hundred people. Invite friends, invite strangers. You may do it all day every day, so long as your motivation is something other than to people in need." For Thornton, it was extremely shocking to learn that she was being arrested just because of her humanity and kindness.
Thornton told KLAS, "I’d just finished up serving approximately 26 or 27 people, and the very last person that came through, I literally was scraping the bottom of my pans, finished off the food, gave him, and as he was walking away, these two police officers drove up." She continued, "Still I thought it was a kind of joke, someone playing a prank– until I was put in the back of the police car."
According to the rule, as a result of persons and groups handing free meals in public parks, local authorities have had to manage public nuisances and clean up waste left behind. Thornton stated that she never had a problem with this while sharing food. She said, "We always kept the park clean so that the places were always left as clean or cleaner than when we arrived. Nobody camped in the park or lived in the park."
She never pleaded guilty in court because she believed she had done nothing wrong. Thornton was handed a notice to appear in criminal court following her arrest and was instructed not to return to the park to feed people. Thornton was warned by the police that if she did, she would go to jail. She was also threatened with up to 120 days in jail, 2 years of probation, and $1,400 in fines.
Her attorney at the Institute of Justice is now suing Bullhead City in federal court, arguing that the statute violates her right to serve. San said, "They cannot do that under the constitution." According to Bullhead City Mayor Tom Brady, the rule only applies to public parks, so churches, clubs, and private sites are allowed to give food to the homeless without a permit. However, the lawsuit states, "The permit’s conditions are so restrictive that, in practice, it is not a permit requirement but is a categorical prohibition on giving prepared food to the needy in public parks."
Thornton stated that she is now feeding individuals in need in a private alley but wants to assist people wherever they are. She said, "I am still able to serve people… It is not ideal, there’s no tables, no grass, they get their food and they just sit up against a fence. When I was serving in the park, word would get out that I was serving, and it was much easier for people to get to me and to the food." She added, "I have always believed that when you have plenty, you should share."