It's not the giving season for two police officers in Mobile, Alabama, who have gone viral thanks to a photo of the pair holding a "quilt" they made from cardboard signs confiscated from panhandlers in the city.
A Facebook post of an image apparently taken inside a Mobile Police Department office shows the two officers, identified by AL.com as Preston McGraw and Alexandre Olivier, standing and smiling with the patchwork of cardboard signs begging for money or other help. Above the image, the Facebook text (it appears as though it was posted by McGraw) reads, "Wanna wish everybody in 4th Precinct a Merry Christmas, especially our captain. Hope you enjoy our homeless quilt."
Lawrence Battiste, the chief of police in Mobile, apologized for the post, AL.com reports:
"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."
Citywide bans on panhandling are an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment rights of beggars, but Mobile has a more specific law that bans the practice only in the downtown area. Those who violate the law can face a fine up to $500 and up to six months in jail.