The Bangor Police Department Facebook Page — which has become wildly popular in the past year thanks in large part to the ‘duck of justice’ — is now taking heat for a recent post. Their public service announcement outlined how officers have witnessed panhandlers using sharpies to write messages on cardboard signs to ultimately scam Bangor residents.
Here is the post in question originally published to Facebook on June 4th:
Sharpies are a great tool. Marking your underwear for summer camp, making mustaches on sleeping, overnight guests, adding the words “early birds welcome” on your neighbor’s signs for the 10th garage sale of the month. Useful tools.
Sharpies can also be used to manipulate the feelings of others. We are having big problem with panhandling in some parts of Bangor. The folks writing the signs are not always truthful and they are using the power of the written word and the sad face to get you to donate money to their cause.
The sign’s words vary but the message is usually the same. Please give me money for I have lost my job, I have an illness, I want to get home to Palmyra to take care of my elderly mother. Many add the words “God Bless You” at the end of the sign in order to pull on your internal, moral compass. It works and most of the folks doing this are making more than you do in an average day.
There are others who walk up to you, lie to you and take your money for other reasons. Great stories about trying to get somewhere and only needing twelve more dollars to do it are superb tools of manipulation and those folks save on Sharpies and cardboard. Lower overhead equals more profit. I did well in business math so I know this is factual information.
We take complaints about the activity and until the involved persons are asked to move on by the property owner, we cannot do “Jack Squat” to make it stop. Once a person is warned about trespass and served a written order, we can then arrest them if they continue being on someone’s property. We do not have an anti-panhandling ordinance.
I will share a secret with you. People do not stay in jail when arrested. They are bailed out (probably with your money) and head right back out to do their business. We are usually sitting down to type the report when they wave to us on the way back to a new spot to collect. True story.
Now, the good news is if you stop giving them money on the way out of the parking lot, they will move along on their own. Thus, saving time and money in many ways. Giving to the needy can be done by using our many fantastic (local) charitable organizations. Please consider this as a way to give to those less fortunate. People are being duped daily and until you stop giving, they will not stop taking.
We watch your money disappear every day. We know that much of it goes to narcotics and alcohol. You should keep this in mind. We are not saying all requests are suspect. We are saying; most. You might not like the message or the messenger but It would help us greatly if you would choose another way of being the pleasant and helpful people that you are.
I will cap the Sharpie for today. Please help us to help you. The men and women of the Bangor Police Department will be here!
I respect the fact that the police department has shared their inside view of a problem that may not be known by the general public. I was one of the many thousands who “liked” the post when it first appeared in my news feed.
But enter activist and Maine Green Party leader Pat LaMarche. Monday in Bangor she organized a “mock panhandling protest” in front of the Bangor Police Station and asked for an apology from the department for what she believed was harsh criticism of people who are simply down and out.
As one might expect, judging from comments today on social media, LaMarche and the dozen or so people who joined her in the protest are a significant minority in believing the Bangor PD was out of line.
However, all people — including panhandlers who may not have the best of intentions — are fellow human beings created in the image of God. So lumping all panhandlers into one stereotype as being con-artists, and mocking them on social media, is not the most respectful way to treat our fellow image bearers who very likely aren’t just people attempting to gather resources to feed an addiction. They may also be homeless veterans, domestic violence victims, recently laid-off mill workers, or runaway teens. So in that regard, I can empathize with LaMarche’s view.
But the Bangor PD is here to protect and serve the citizens of Bangor. What’s more, their Facebook posts are well known for their humor and sarcasm. The “sharpie post” was a combination of these two realities. So, in short, both sides are right to some extent. And in this case, both the Bangor PD and Pat LaMarche have good intentions.
In the end, give to local charities if you want, or give to panhandlers if you desire. And before demonizing these panhandlers, know that begging for money is a last resort when basic needs aren’t being met, even if it is as a result of their own bad decisions. In that regard, we should pray for them and attempt to serve them where possible. After all, they are the “least of these” among us.