BANGOR, Maine — A dozen people joined Green Party leader Pat LaMarche on the sidewalk in front of the police station Monday to protest a Bangor Police Department Facebook post last week that asked residents to avoid giving money to people panhandling.
“When you beg for money and beg for food, that doesn’t make you a bad person,” Allen Sockabasin, a member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and local voice for native Americans, said while standing with the protesters.
He said he “absolutely” gives to panhandlers.
“I do my part. I do my share,” Sockabasin said.
LaMarche, a political activist, author and homeless shelter staffer, called her protest the Pat LaMarche Panhandling For Your First Amendment event. The supervisor of social services for Carlisle CARES in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, LaMarche grew up in Bangor. She organized the protest knowing she’d be in town for her late father’s previously scheduled memorial service. She said she’d like to get an apology from Bangor police officials but said she understands that “it’s hard to admit when you’re wrong.”
Bangor police spokesman Sgt. Tim Cotton issued a statement responding to LaMarche’s request Monday afternoon.
“Our post was intended to warn visitors and citizens of the City of Bangor about aggressive panhandling and the benefits of giving to a local, verifiable charity. If one peruses the stories that were shared by followers of the page, they would see that it is a nationwide issue and is not endemic to Bangor. We appreciate the support that we have received for warning the public about the issue,” Cotton said in an email.
“We apologize to anyone who misunderstood the intent of our post,” the statement continued. “Many people, however, did understand it. We appreciate our responsibility to protect those who live, work and visit Bangor and that does include those who panhandle and everyone who comes into contact with those that panhandle. Donating is an individual decision. We, however, maintain that donating to established local charities or food cupboards might be a better strategy in helping those in need of assistance.”
LaMarche handed out a double-sided page titled, “What they said” and “What they should have said,” on which she wrote, “The folks writing posts are not always accurate and they are using the power of the written word and incorporating fear to get you to think the worst of your fellow man.”
The department’s Facebook post is a warning to people about panhandling scammers — those who live off people’s charity by lying — and is written in an informal style.
“Sharpies can also be used to manipulate the feelings of others,” it states. “We are having [a] 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.”
Cotton said Sunday that the June 4 Facebook post is a warning about aggressive panhandlers who have frightened some people with their tactics.
Bangor’s post goes on to say that not all the people who ask for money from strangers are scamming people, and it adds that those who want to help the needy should give to local charitable organizations.
Veazie resident Julie Hathaway, a school board member, held a sign Monday that read, “Poor people panhandle, middle class people crowdsource. Same action, different venue. We diss the first, respect the other.”
“The police said that people who want to give to the needy should go to a nice organization,” Hathaway said. “The problem is the nice organizations can’t begin to handle the need.”
People who fall through the cracks panhandle, she said.
“We need to face reality,” Hathaway said. “Most all of us are a paycheck away from dire straits.”
LaMarche later reported raising $50 via the protest to be donated to Spruce Run, for women affected by abusive partners.