by Thomas Hill
This past Friday, I made my way from Concord, NC, to Columbia, SC, on behalf of You Are The Power, to support Erika Brown and her organization, Be Kind Be Great. Erika and her organization specialize in feeding unhoused populations in the Greater Columbia area and beyond.
Erika embodies an ethos of compassion and service, doing what she can to ensure that hungry people have something to eat. Unfortunately, because hungry people are often homeless, and that is inconvenient to our political class, Columbia took a page from Gastonia's book, and made it illegal to feed people. They ticketed Erika for this heinous crime.
YATP found out about the harassment from CPD and issued a call to action to inspire activists to join Erika and provide a "shield" of support and protection the next time she attempted to feed hungry mouths in her city.
I met Matt Baxley, chair of the York County LP and state coordinator for YATP, before the scheduled feeding time. We discussed the possibility of being arrested and prepared ourselves the best we could. Considering the show of force by law enforcement in Gastonia in response to Pastor Moses and his ministry, both Matt Baxley, the event organizer, and I expected the worst.
We met Erika and other YATP and local LP activists in front of the library downtown and started preparing to feed the hungry. As some of us served food, others held signs and peacefully assembled in support.
Numerous city police vehicles passed by without stopping. Folks were able to go about their business downtown as we fed the unhoused until we ran out of food. This is remarkable considering the police shut her operations down within seven minutes the last time she attempted to feed our less fortunate neighbors.
We thought our good fortune was about to change when a city policeman stopped by as we were packing up. Matt interceded as the officer was approaching, politely greeted the officer, and offered him water to drink. The officer was very kind and professional, only asking for details about the organizations taking part and the people responsible for organizing it. YATP became involved to provide cover for Be Kind Be Great. Matt said he would take responsibility if any tickets or charges were forthcoming.
The officer assured us that he had no problem with what we were doing. He just wanted to make sure we weren't blocking the sidewalk or leaving any trash behind. We assured him that we would leave the area better than we found it and thanked him for his kindness and professional demeanor.
It certainly was a breath of fresh air compared to the response of law enforcement in Gastonia. They would be well served and better enabled to serve their community if they followed Officer Hall's lead and acted as a true peace officer, rather than punishers.