Protesters gather outside Hunger First after arrest of food bank director

Local

KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – Protesters gathered outside of Hunger First in Kingsport Monday afternoon as a demonstration of support after the non-profit’s director was arrested on Thursday.

Officers charged Michael Gillis with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, illegal parking, and failure to obey a lawful order. Gillis was released from jail Thursday night.

Protesters outside Hunger First arrived with signs declaring “We have rights too!” and “If its {sic} such a problem be part of the solution!!!”

Some protesters could be heard chanting, “Homeless lives matter!”

Volunteers and patrons of the food and clothing bank say an excessive amount of jaywalking tickets, as well as citations for sleeping in public, have been issued to people around Hunger First.

Last week Gillis’ arrest outside Hunger First was captured in a video that has since been widely circulated on social media. According to police reports, an officer originally stopped there to address a man sleeping near the entrance of Hunger First.

“He didn’t deserve what happened to him,” said protest organizer Madison Cross. She believes police could have handled the situation with Gillis better.

“He was sticking up for the 62-year-old veteran that was waiting for a hot meal,” said Cross. “They say it’s a fire hazard? But they’re not allowed to sit on the street because it’s loitering waiting for food. So where are they supposed to sit? Where are they supposed to wait to be able to be fed?”

Neighbors previously told News Channel 11 they’re tired of the illegal activity happening in the area and they requested help from the police. Kingsport Chief of Police David Quillin said on Friday that residents have called officers nearly 2,000 times in the last three years to the area near Hunger First.

Quillen says the area is being heavily patrolled by officers in an effort to target criminal activity, not the homeless population.

On Monday, Kingsport city leaders once again deferred comment to Quillin. More of Quillin’s interview, as well as interviews with residents living around Hunger First, can be watched here.

Gillis deffered comment to Hunger First spokesperson, Sara Buchanan, on Monday. Buchanan believes crime in the area is being unfairly attributed to the food pantry.

“I think that there is crime in the neighborhood because there’s crime all over Kingsport. Hunger First is in the place where it is because there is a need here,” said Buchanan.

Buchanan said Hunger First has had a good relationship with the KPD in the past, and the rise in police presence and jaywalking tickets happened suddenly.

“We’ve always worked in harmony, worked hand in glove, with the Kingsport Police Department to try to promote our same goals,” she said. “Which is to help people, to protect people, and to make sure they can have the best quality of life they can have, given their circumstances.”

Buchanan said Hunger First is more than just one person or a small group.

“Hunger First is a network of people across Kingsport, across the Tri-Cities, even into Southwest Virginia and across the nation who support this organization, provide it donations, provide it with technical assistance,” she said. “And it really puts a black mark on the City of Kingsport when we aren’t caring for the least of these.”

Monday’s protest lasted for around an hour. Members of the New Panthers, an activist group that’s organized Black Lives Matter rallies around the Tri-Cities region, also showed up to the Hunger First protest. At one point, multiple police officers approached to address protesters. A member of the New Panthers told News Channel 11 he had been cited for jaywalking while crossing the street to get to Hunger First.

Efforts to build a shelter for the homeless remain ongoing in Kingsport.

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