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Memphis non-profit asked to leave Court Square Park while feeding the homeless

“There has to be a permit for an organized event,” said a Downtown Memphis Commission supervisor over the phone while asking the group to leave.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Memphis organization helping to feed those in need bumped heads with the Downtown Memphis Commission’s Blue Suede Brigade. It happened in early July at Court Square Park in Memphis, and the interaction has some wondering about park policies. 

Food Not Bombs is a global organization providing food to those in need. 

“Compassion means sharing love. For us, love is food,” said David Virone, member of the group's Memphis chapter.

On July 8, Virone and the group were passing out food to those facing homelessness when a member of the Downtown Memphis Commission’s (DMC's) safety and hospitality team, the Blue Suede Bridgade, asked for a permit. 

“Because we were not vendors, we were under the impression that we were allowed to just have a picnic in the park,” said Virone.

The group asked to speak with a supervisor who was contacted over the phone. 

“There has to be a permit for an organized event,” said the Blue Suede Brigade supervisor over the phone.

After some back and forth, the supervisor was heard over the phone asking the group to leave the park. 

“We decided to move, but we certainly want answers as far as why that happened,” said Virone. “You don’t need a permit to serve up compassion.”

After learning about the interaction, the DMC issue a statement to the group, saying: 

“On behalf of the entire staff of the DMC, we would like to apologize. We didn’t get it all right in the conversation between our Blue Suede Brigade and your team. Our officers were correct in mentioning the permits necessary for activation in Court Square Park. But they should have felt empowered to waive this requirement for the type of use your team was engaged in.”

Virone said the DMC also asked to meet with the group. 

“Our response is that we are immediately requesting that they provide the legal basis for permitting non vendors in this park,” said Virone.

But what is the policy? ABC24 spoke with DMC who directed us to their website. The permits page describes needing a usage permit on Court Square and Civic Center Plaza.

The DMC said they are working to implement new training for their brigade that will help people obtain permits. They also said they welcome activities to the park that supports the Memphis community. But Virone said he's still upset over the encounter.

“In a city where one in four residents live in poverty, we’re deeply distressed by being prevented to provide help for our neighbors,” said Virone.

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