NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

August 5, 2013

Editorial: A look at what others are saying


Newburyport Daily News

---- — The following are excerpts from editorials in other New England newspapers:

Panhandling, in which people beg for money along the public streets and sidewalks, raises a wide variety of emotions in passers-by, from compassion to anger. These beggars usually hold up a sign bearing a pathetic message and ask people to give them money, work or food to help them out.

No one likes to see beggars on the street corners and medians, whether it’s because they feel bad for them or because they believe these folks are bums who give the area a bad image. Trouble is, it’s a difficult problem to address. Last week, some headlines read that the city of Portland had “banned panhandling” in an attempt to help clean up the city, but that wasn’t exactly true. Panhandling is protected by the First Amendment, so it can’t actually be banned.

Cities that have a problem with the phenomenon have had to find ways to skirt an outright ban, so Portland already has a law against “aggressive panhandling.” The city’s new ordinance will also make it illegal for people to loiter on highway medians. It’s being painted as a safety issue.

While these are certainly valid safety concerns, it’s hard to believe that’s the real reason for the ordinance change. Advocates for the homeless have noted that while dozens of homeless people died last year, none were victims of panhandling accidents.

Let’s face it: Loitering bans and other such measures are an effort to rid a city of the blight of panhandling, not to protect those who are begging. No city wants to have beggars on its street corners, as it often intimidates people who are walking or driving by and ultimately turns people off from an entire area, giving it a bad reputation.

Clearly, it doesn’t make sense to give money to panhandlers. Not only does it encourage a potentially dangerous behavior and contribute to blight in the city, but it’s also not ultimately helping the person who is begging.

If we could all simply agree as a society to stop giving money to panhandlers, this unsightly, dehumanizing practice would be more likely to end, and our donations could be redirected to social service agencies that actually help people get out of poverty.

— The Journal Tribune of Biddeford (Maine)

Facebook follies

Facebook has been on the scene for almost a decade, followed by dozens of other social media sites, including Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. And still people don’t learn rule No. 1 — nothing you put online is private.

Sometimes that forgetfulness is a boon to police, who often use criminals’ own social media posts to track them down, as in a recent case where a suspected shoplifter taunted Richmond, Ky., police on the department’s Facebook page.

“Catch me if you can and I got mad pants,” wrote the suspected shoplifter, 26-year-old Christina Bratcher. Richmond police aren’t sure what “mad pants” are (and neither are we), but they were able to track down and arrest Bratcher, thanks to her posting.

Sometimes, however, even the most innocuous of postings can lead to trouble, as a Salem, Mass., woman learned last week. The Daniels Street mother made her 5-year-old son a birthday smoothie, made with ginger ale. She “garnished the drink with a strawberry ... and told her son it was a cocktail to celebrate his birth,” according to a police report.

She recorded the event and put it on Facebook, where it was seen by about 500 Facebook friends. One of those “friends” thought the woman was letting her son drink alcohol and called the police. A cute birthday ritual, shared through the sometimes warped lens of social media, led to a visit from the police.

Police, of course, found no evidence that the woman served her son alcohol, and they advised her to be more watchful about what she posts on Facebook.

That’s good advice for us all.

— The Salem News