June 9, 1996 in Nation/World

Man Gets Jail For Giving Away Food Activists Outraged By Treatment Of S.F. Homeless

San Francisco Examiner

Hunger activist Robert Kahn will soon become the first person to be jailed in San Francisco for the “crime” of handing out free food to the poor in Civic Center Plaza, despite a plea by the district attorney to set him free.

Visiting Municipal Court Judge Robert Barclay denied a motion Friday to reduce Kahn’s 60-day-sentence to one day and release him immediately for time served.

Instead, Barclay told Kahn, a member of Food Not Bombs, to report to the county Jail June 17.

Barclay also denied a request by Kahn’s attorney to allow him to perform community service instead of jail time.

Since 1988, more than 1,000 people have been arrested in San Francisco for distributing free food, but Kahn is the only one convicted of a crime for his action.

“I’m disheartened of course,” said the 49-year-old Kahn, outside the courtroom. “The prospect of going to a crowded jail with people crammed in - some violent, some not - for two months is, at best, a waste of time.”

However, Kahn said his jailing might become the catalyst for change in the city’s policies toward homeless people.

Kahn’s is a case that has attracted the attention of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which is “greatly disturbed” by the treatment of Food Not Bombs activists, said Karen Parker, a San Francisco attorney who specializes in international human rights law.

“Imagine what the United States would do if this occurred in another country,” Parker said. “San Francisco is as responsible for human rights as the city of Rangoon. If the military dictatorship in Burma arrested people for feeding the poor and the homeless in Rangoon, the United States would condemn them.”

Kahn arrived for the hearing wearing a old blue bathrobe - a teddy bear tucked in his belt - over his jeans and sweater. The robe symbolizes another of Kahn’s campaigns: to stop police from arresting homeless people who sleep in public places.

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