The strange case of Keith McHenry & Food Not Bombs
Date: Tue, 12 Jul 94 16:21:57 PDT
Subject: The strange case of Keith McHenry & Food Not Bombs
[felony conspiracy to serve food? And I always thought serving food was a
simple misdemeanor... -psl]
Forwarded-by: Fred Chase <email@example.com>
From: the S.F. Bay Guardian, 6 July '94, p. 11
FOOD NOT BARS
The Wrong-Way Prosecution of Keith McHenry
By Donnell Alexander
For San Francisco Food Not Bombs activist Keith McHenry-- who has gone to
court nearly 100 times since 1988 for serving food without a permit-- a
date to appear before the Superior Court might seem run of the mill. Such
is not the case for his July 11 engagement.
This time the stakes are much higher. District Attorney James Chou told
the Bay Guardian that the homeless activist is charged with four felony
charges-- two for assault with force likely to do great bodily harm, one
for theft, and one for robbery-- and misdemeanor charges of vandalism,
battery, and threatening a witness. All charges stem from two seperate
incidents earlier this year.
If convicted on all counts, McHenry, who is currently out on $75,000 bail
after spending most of the month of May in jail, will have the three
felony convictions necessary to be imprisoned for life under California's
new "Three Strikes, You're Out" law. Chou said a life sentence was
unlikely, but that McHenry, if convicted, could easily serve time in
"I'm very nervous about that right now," McHenry, 37, told the Bay
Guardian. "I've never struck a person, I've never hit anyone. Yet I'm
being painted as the violent one." McHenry said the current charges are
part of a pattern of harassment by Mayor Frank Jordan and other city
Regardless of whether McHenry is found guilty or innocent, the hundreds
of arrests of Food Not Bombs members for serving food to the homeless
have made the activists celebrated causes. The United Nations Human
Rights Commission is investigating the possibility that McHenry and his
group have been victims of human rights violations. The U.N.
investigation is confidential, but Karen Parker, a lawyer and U.N.
nongovernmental delegate since 1982, said Jakob Moller, director of
communications for the U.N.'s Centre for Human Rights in Geneva, sent
McHenry a letter indicating that the activist's complaint "has made it
through a certain number of rounds of screening."
According to both McHenry and C.T. Butler of the Boston office of Food
Not Bombs, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) has asked the U.S. Justice
Department to investigate whether Mayor Frank Jordan has abused his power
and harassed members of Food Not Bombs. McHenry's earlier request to the
Justice Department for an investigation of civil rights violations was
declined, according to a Feb. 2 letter from James P. Turner, then acting
assistant attorney general.
Jennifer Schaeffer, an assistant to Kennedy, was unable to confirm
whether or not the senator had requested a federal investigation. She
told the Bay Guardian, however, that Kennedy's Boston office had reviewed
a videotape of Food Not Bombs arrests.
Mayor Jordan's press secretary Noah Griffin dismissed the interest in
Food Not Bombs as part of an ongoing manipulation of the media by McHenry.
"He knows the media and government process as well as anyone," Griffin
told the Bay Guardian. "Keith has a problem because [Food Not Bombs] is
not a food-service organization. Its Cambridge office bills itself as a
political organization." He said the U.N. investigation had nothing to do
with the Mayor's Office.
McHenry's trial addresses charges relating to two incidents at S.F. City
Hall. The first occured Jan. 4: McHenry is charged with attacking film
commissioner Nick Roomel (who has publicly admitted to gathering
information on McHenry) and stealing his beeper. No witnesses were
reported in this incident.
The second incident occured May 13: Nancy Kitz, an aide to Supervisor
Barbara Kaufman, alleges that McHenry punched in a glass door in City
Hall and injured her. McHenry says Kitz shut the door on his outstretched
hand. Deputy City Attorney Randy Riddle is a witness against McHenry.
McHenry's bail, initially set at $250,000, was eventually lowered to $75,000.
The trial, scheduled to begin July 11, consolidates the two felony cases
against him. The decision to consolidate came June 29, the same day that,
according to Food Not Bombs, police arrested six food servers in Civic
Center Plaza and charged them with felony conspiracy to serve food
without a permit.
Food Not Bombs members, who serve hundreds of meals a day in Civic
Center, have experiences 725 arrests since 1988. Most of the arrests have
been misdemeanor charges of serving food without a permit.
Food Not Bombs has offices throughout California and around the United
States and Canada. Not only does the organization serve meals seven days
a week in Berkeley and Oakland without arrests, but it also serves meals
in cities that include Boston; Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Vancouver, B.C.
Organizers in those cities told the Bay Guardian their service occurs
All of this recognition of the McHenry case brings up the question, What
have McHenry and Food Not Bombs done that merits being arrested? Chou
insists McHenry's case has no political overtones.
"We're not even addressing the Food Not Bombs issue. These are serious
crimes," Chou said. "What we are looking at here, particularly with the
felony cases, is very serious conduct."
The mayor and many other city officials have said that McHenry should
concentrate on getting a food-serving permit rather than making political
statements and leafleting City Hall. However, the Recreation and Park
Department quietly amended its rules in 1990 to entirely eliminate
permits for serving free food on city property (see On Guard, 4/13/94).
"Obviously, you shouldn't need a permit to serve free food," McHenry said.
(Keith McHenry's trial starts Monday, July 11, 9 a.m., in Superior Court,
Hall of Justice, 850 Bryant, S.F. Call Food Not Bombs at (415) 330-5030
for more information.)
© 1994 Peter Langston