We are taught at a young age that policemen are our friends. We tell our children that policemen are there to protect us and can be trusted to help.
In most cases, it is true that they are the good guys.
In any profession there are those whose negative actions in no way represent the group as a whole.
A recent incident in Mobile has people talking about the actions of two police officers. And not in a good way. Two Mobile police officers posted a photo appearing to ridicule homeless people. The photo was posted during the holiday season.
The post shows two officers holding up a so-called “quilt” made up of cardboard signs that were confiscated from homeless people in the city.
The text under the photo says, “wanna wish everybody in the 4th precinct a Merry Christmas, especially our captain. Hope you enjoy our homeless quilt. Sincerely, Panhandler Patrol.”
Both officers are recent graduates of the Mobile Police Academy and the photo was taken inside the Mobile Police Department.
It didn’t take long for the photo to go viral and people were quick to condemn the actions of the officers.
The Mobile police chief offered an apology on behalf of his department for the post and assured the community there would be an investigation into the actions of the officers.
Panhandling in Mobile is allowed only outside of the downtown area. Violations can result in a fine of up to $500, community service and/or up to six months in jail.
Saying the photo and the post were tasteless would be an understatement. It was offensive.
Being homeless is nothing to make jokes about. It is a serious situation and a little compassion would have been appropriate.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, over 553,000 people are homeless on any given night. Ten percent of those are veterans. Over 700,000 young people under the age of 18 experience homelessness each year.
Those numbers are nothing to laugh about.
There are all kinds of reasons that people end up homeless and I’m sure if you ask a group of people how many of them want to end up homeless, none would volunteer for such a state of living.
People who are homeless may not share much in common with each other except vulnerability, lack of housing or income and necessary means to support themselves.
Traumatic events such as house fires and job losses contribute to homelessness.
Another cause is relational problems. Those can include family violence and abuse, addiction or extreme poverty.
Recent research shows there is an undeniable connection between violence and homelessness. Family violence often forces family members to leave home suddenly without proper support in place.
This is especially true for young people and women with children.
Even senior citizens who experience abuse are at risk of being homeless.
The assumption that homelessness is a choice could not be further from the truth.
Sudden illness, an accident, losing a job or falling into debt which leads to eviction can cause changes in living arrangements.
Most homeless people are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.
Homelessness should be a community concern. Most people who are homeless stay in the area where they previously lived.
That means any member of our community can become a statistic. They could be forced to live in tents or under bridges, vulnerable to all kinds of weather and violence. Living under these conditions strips them of all dignity.
These people may have suffered a normal life crisis without any help or family support.
Those of us who have a strong support system around us, including people who can intervene on our behalf should count our blessings.
These people may have no one.
Mobile’s chief of police called the photo and post an “insensitive gesture” by the officers and say they suffered a “lapse in judgement.”
Perhaps these officers should spend a few hours with some of the homeless people and listen to their stories about how they ended up on the street.
My guess is they won’t find anything funny about real human suffering. And if they do, they need to find other employment.