BANGOR, Maine — Green Party leader Pat LaMarche, a political activist, author and homeless shelter staffer, has taken offense to a Thursday morning post on Bangor Police Department’s Facebook page about panhandling and, in protest, she will be out in front of the station panhandling Monday morning.
She’s calling the 11 a.m.-1 p.m. protest the Pat LaMarche Panhandling For Your First Amendment event.
“The basic message is the people who are so desperate that they are standing on the street corner don’t need to be maligned by the police, they need to be protected,” LaMarche said Sunday by phone.
Bangor police Sgt. Tim Cotton said Sunday that the June 4 Facebook post is a warning about aggressive panhandlers who have frightened some people with their tactics.
“Our officers deal with this daily and we feel that one way to curb the practice of aggressive panhandling is to urge folks to give to the local, verified charity of their choice rather that giving cash to folks that have a very powerful story that, sometimes, is not true,” Cotton said in an email. “Tongue and cheek humor in our comments about Sharpies does not mean we are advocating for banning signs, posters or other means of sharing a message.”
The sergeant also said, “We are not arresting panhandlers or people who make signs” and that, “The Bangor Police Department has a strong history of advocating for those less fortunate and we will continue to do so.”
The department’s Facebook post is a warning to people about panhandling scammers — those who live off people’s charity by lying — and in typical Bangor police Facebook style, the writer takes a playful approach to what they consider to be a problem.
“Sharpies can also be used to manipulate the feelings of others,” it states. “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,” the post states. “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.”
Bangor’s post goes on to say that not all the people who ask for money from strangers are scamming people, and adds a suggestion for those who want to help.
“Giving to the needy can be done by using our many fantastic [local] charitable organizations,” it states. “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.”
The post also says the department deals with numerous complaints about the panhandling, and states, “We cannot do ‘Jack Squat’ to make it stop” because there are no rules against the practice. It also implies that they deal with the same people, over and over.
“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,” the Facebook post states. “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.”
LaMarche, who is the supervisor of social services for Carlisle CARES in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, said the post does more harm than good.
“Shame on the Bangor Police Department public relations. They are trying to fuel resentment,” she posted on her Facebook page.
For LaMarche, many of the “tongue and cheek” comments used in the post are scathing.
“No matter what, panhandling on the best day is a horrible job,” LaMarche said. “Whatever your desperation, and there is always a desperation, it’s a pretty awful place to be.”
The money she, and others, collect during her panhandling protest will be given to Spruce Run for women affected by partner abuse.
“Most people understood the focus of the post and we stand by the request to donate through better means,” Cotton said.