Ethics Quiz: The 90-year-old Scofflaw Humanitarian vs. The Heartless Mayor Who Isn’t Really


[Fred, one of my two regular ethics issue scouts (Alexander Cheezem is the other, and what I would do without their assistance, I do not know: thank you, thank you, thank you, guys!), flagged this classic ethics conflict several weeks ago.]

Some sources reported that a “90-year-old man was arrested for feeding the homeless.” This set off typical fact-free indignation on the social media and talk shows, not to mention the angry e-mails from around the world: Charity illegal???  A kind old man arrested just for trying to help the poor! Cruelty!!! ARGGGHHH!!!

Naturally, this was not what really happened.

For 23 years, since he was 67, 90–year-old Arnold Abbott and his non-profit organization, Love Thy Neighbor, have provided food for the homeless at a public beach in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Wednesday of every week at 5:30 p.m. This year, on October 21, the City of Fort Lauderdale Commission passed an ordinance that banned such food distributions in public. The ordinance required that organizations distributing food outdoors would have to provide portable toilets for use by workers and those being fed. It’s a health and safety regulation, for the benefit of homeless and vulerable. A few days after the ordinance took effect, on a Wednesday, at a bit after 5:30 PM, Abbott  was approached by police officers and cited for violating the ordinance. He was not arrested. He was told that he must appear in court.

After Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler was called everything from a monster to a Republican (he’s a Democrat), someone finally asked him what the ordinance was all about and questioned his police department’s treatment of the kindly senior. “We hope he feeds, ” Seilor said. “He has a very valuable role in the community. All we’re saying is he can feed the next block over. He can feed at the church. We want them to be in safe secure settings. We wanted them to be in a sanitary matter. We them to have facilities available before and after.” That seems reasonable.

Seiler has also offered an explanation for the ordinance, which was backed by the Chamber of Commerce, that sounds more, well, Republican, saying that  providing the homeless food in public only enables homelessness, and that Fort Lauderdale wants the homeless to use government and church services. “If you are going to simply feed them outdoors to get them from breakfast to lunch to dinner, all you are doing is enabling the cycle of homelessness,” Seiler says. Well, that’s debatable, but it isn’t unreasonable.

Still,  it’s hard to teach old humanitarians new tricks, and Arnold is defiant. Continue reading

Self-Webshaming At Dunkin’ Donuts

(Watch this after you’ve read the post. Kind of like dessert..)

The ethical considerations one should review when pondering whether to engage in webshaming nicely evaporate when the subject has chosen, though unwittingly, to webshame herself. Thus Ethics Alarms has no qualms about presenting for your consideration, revulsion, and rejection if she ever applies for a job from you, one Taylor Chapman, a 27-year-old woman who lives in the vicinity of Fort Lauderdale. She eagerly and proudly posted to her Facebook page the phone-video above, of her abusing an impeccable Dunkin’ Donuts employee, annoying a customer, and making serial statements with signature significance—no decent human being would utter even one of these appalling comments in public unless suffering from a brain trauma or extreme intoxication.

Chapman was angry because she and her friends had not received a receipt along with their large drive-thru order, and angrily (and abusively, based on Chapman’s manner, but we can only guess) demanded to receive their order free of charge, as Dunkin’ Donuts now promises as part of a service pledge. The employee handling the order apparently did not know how to proceed, and told the group that they would have to come by the store and see her manager the next day.

[An aside: That’s not good customer service, DD. If you make a guarantee that is supposed to mean anything, you have an obligation to train employees how to deliver on it. Telling customers who have not received the promised service that they have to come back to the establishment another day to receive what they are owed is unreasonable and a bait-and switch. I would have said to forget it. I would have written a letter. I would not have done what Chapman did, and I don’t know anyone who would.]

What Chapman did was to return the next day and demand her free order, tossing obscenities at the extraordinarily polite and unflappable employee (his name is Abid Adar, and you should send him flowers) on duty while she recorded the encounter as if it were a health department sting. Continue reading