December 30th, 2019 – Police officers in Mobile, Alabama have sparked controversy after posting a photo where they show off a “quilt” they put together after confiscating homeless people’s signs. The image was shared from a personal Facebook account but specifically calls out the precinct and its police chief, Lawrence Battiste.
The two police officers in the image are Preston McGraw and Alexandre Olivier. McGraw posted the pic and referred to himself and Olivier as the “Panhandler patrol.”
“Wanna wish everybody in the 4th precinct a Merry Christmas, especially our captain. Hope you enjoy our homeless quilt. Sincerely Panhandler patrol.”
The image gained even more traction when Eduardo Romero shared it and added his own thoughts saying:
“Imagine taking pride in terrorizing the most vulnerable people in society.”
While some people laughed at the taped-together cardboard signs (most of which had the phrase “God Bless”) others called the quilt “pathetic,” “disgusting,” and “shameful.”
“I bet they believe they’re Christians too…. SMDH,” one commenter wrote.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s funny and clever. Haha,” another wrote.”
“Nothing funny about this; whatever you wish for yourself, you will received. Circumstances changes, one day they might find themselves in that situation,” another user added.
According to al.com, a panhandling ban law went into effect in 2010, which make is illegal for people to ask for money in the downtown area known as the Visitors’ Domain. It was a controversial decision and one that had to be written carefully as to not violate federal court decisions that deem citywide bans on begging an unconstitutional violation of free speech.
Police Chief Battiste addressed the department’s need to enforce the panhandling law in his statement but also said they never meant to make light of those who finds themselves in this situation.
“As a police department entrusted with serving and protecting our community, we offer our sincerest apology for the insensitive gesture of a Facebook post by two of our officers where they are holding up a homeless “quilt” made of panhandling signs,” he said. “Although we do not condone panhandling and must enforce the city ordinances that limit panhandling, it is never our intent or desire as a police department to make light of those who find themselves in a homeless state. Rather, our position has always been to partner with community service providers to help us help those faced with homelessness with hope to improve their quality of life.”