Two Mobile Police Officers have sparked outrage online after an image of them appearing to mock hungry and desperate homeless people in their community went viral over the holiday period.
The Facebook post shows the two officers, Preston McGraw and Alexandre Olivier, holding up a so-called “quilt” of cardboard signs apparently confiscated from homeless people in the city, reports AL.com.
The caption on the post reads: “Wanna wish everybody in the 4th precinct a Merry Christmas, especially our captain. Hope you enjoy our homeless quilt. Sincerely Panhandler patrol.”
Officers McGraw and Olivier are recent graduates of the Mobile Police Academy, according to the news outlet.
The photo appears to have been taken inside a Mobile Police Department office.
“Protect and serve? How horrible these so called officers are,” wrote one outraged resident in response to the post. “How is that helpful?! How is that helping communities?”
“Disgusting,” wrote another. “You’re making it illegal to be poor. Shame on all of you. What would Jesus think of you?”
Mobile Chief of Police Lawrence Battiste offered apologies on behalf of his department for the post.
“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,” said Chief Battiste. “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.”
According to AL.com:
Mobile first passed its controversial panhandling law in 2010. Under the city rule, asking for money is allowed only outside of the downtown area referred to as the Visitors Domain.
The law was crafted to apply to a small area popular with tourists and visitors in order to comply with federal court decisions that have found citywide bans on begging to be an unconstitutional violation of free speech. A separate section of the ordinance addresses panhandling in the rest of the city. Panhandling in the restricted area can lead to a fine of up to $500, community service and/or up to 6 months in jail, as determined by the municipal court.