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Cops make ‘quilt’ out of homeless signs. Is panhandling free speech?
A photo showing two Alabama police officers bragging about a "homeless quilt" made from confiscated panhandling signs raises questions about the constitutionality of panhandling.
- In a photo posted to Facebook, two Alabama police officers can be seen holding a collection of signs that police had ostensibly taken from homeless people.
- By Monday afternoon, the photo had been shared thousands of times on social media, where some people were calling for the officers to be fired.
- The incident raises questions over an unclear legal question in the U.S.: Is nonviolent panhandling a form of protected speech?
Several Alabama police officers sparked online outrage after posting to Facebook a photo of two cops holding a "homeless quilt" made from confiscated panhandling signs.
The officers smiling in the photo, Preston McGraw and Alexandre Olivier, are recent graduates of the Mobile Police Academy, according to Al.com. Two other people are mentioned in the Facebook post, but it's not clear who they are, or whether they work for the Mobile Police Department. In the Facebook photo, McGraw and Olivier hold signs that display pleas like, "Trying to make it, anything helps, god bless you." The photo caption reads:
"Wanna wish everybody in the 4th precinct a Merry Christmas, especially our captain. Hope you enjoy our homeless quilt! Sincerely, Panhandler patrol."
By Monday afternoon, the photo had been shared thousands of times, with reactions being almost universally negative.
Officers from @MobileALPolice made a "quilt" out of signs they apparently confiscated from homeless people as a gru… https://t.co/H7H5Hhjy4L— Gretchen Koch (@Gretchen Koch)1577715741.0
It takes real effort to do something this callous. Someone spent time on this. https://t.co/cjgDMY5t3e— Jane Coaston (@Jane Coaston)1577728838.0
There is a case for enforcing vagrancy laws. But this is just awful. https://t.co/jfOYKmU4IV— PEG (@PEG)1577728945.0
In a Facebook post published on Monday, Chief of Police Lawrence Battiste offered the department's "sincerest apology for the insensitive gesture."
"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," the post reads. "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."
The photo clearly raises questions over the department's relationship with the local homeless community, and over the officers' general fitness for duty. Some Twitter and Facebook users noted that it seemed like an especially cruel thing to do, considering the timing of the photo and the "Merry Christmas" caption suggests the signs were confiscated over the Christmas holiday.
But the incident also highlights a broader legal question: Is panhandling protected by the First Amendment?
The constitutionality of panhandling laws
Should panhandling be a crime? Should police have the power to confiscate panhandling signs? To answer those questions, you have to consider how the courts have viewed panhandling in the framework of the First Amendment.
For decades, many U.S. cities have passed — and have been sued over — panhandling laws. Supporters of these laws generally frame panhandling as a public safety issue. Meanwhile, opponents argue that the laws infringe on free speech rights. In any case, panhandling laws vary. For example, ordinances that ban aggressive panhandling (solicitation that includes menace or intimidation) aren't controversial. But more restrictive laws are — such as those that ban panhandling in certain areas: subways, airports, state fair grounds.
The courts have generally recognized that "solicitation for money is closely intertwined with speech" and that "solicitation to pay or contribute money is protected under the First Amendment," as the Supreme Court wrote in Schaumburg v. Citizens for a Better Environment (1980). The key constitutional question among these cases is whether panhandling laws are content-neutral — meaning they don't ban a specific type of speech or message — given that content-based restrictions are considered to violate the First Amendment.
In 2015, the Supreme Court ruling reaffirmed this content-based interpretation. The ruling, from Reed v. Town of Gilbert, found that laws can't treat signs differently based on their content. That case dealt with church signs, but the ruling has since been cited to help strike down numerous panhandling laws across the country.
"[The Reed case] has placed literally every panhandling ordinance in the United States at least under risk," First Amendment scholar Enrique Armijo, associate dean for academic affairs at Elon University School of Law, told NPR.
The case has led some cities to try other ways of criminalizing panhandling. In April, for example, a federal district judge struck down an Arkansas city's law that banned physical interaction between pedestrians and vehicle occupants. Judge Robert Dawson wrote that the law infringed upon speech.
"The Court can think of no reason why a pedestrian would intentionally attempt physical interaction with a motor vehicle or its occupants other than to communicate a message."
However, unless the Supreme Court issues a clear ruling on the constitutionality of panhandling, it seems these kinds of laws will remain legally contentious, given that they're currently on the books in hundreds of cities across the U.S.
Northwell Health is using insights from website traffic to forecast COVID-19 hospitalizations two weeks in the future.
- The machine-learning algorithm works by analyzing the online behavior of visitors to the Northwell Health website and comparing that data to future COVID-19 hospitalizations.
- The tool, which uses anonymized data, has so far predicted hospitalizations with an accuracy rate of 80 percent.
- Machine-learning tools are helping health-care professionals worldwide better constrain and treat COVID-19.
The value of forecasting<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTA0Njk2OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMzM2NDQzOH0.rid9regiDaKczCCKBsu7wrHkNQ64Vz_XcOEZIzAhzgM/img.jpg?width=980" id="2bb93" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="31345afbdf2bd408fd3e9f31520c445a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1546" data-height="1056" />
Northwell emergency departments use the dashboard to monitor in real time.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>One unique benefit of forecasting COVID-19 hospitalizations is that it allows health systems to better prepare, manage and allocate resources. For example, if the tool forecasted a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations in two weeks, Northwell Health could begin:</p><ul><li>Making space for an influx of patients</li><li>Moving personal protective equipment to where it's most needed</li><li>Strategically allocating staff during the predicted surge</li><li>Increasing the number of tests offered to asymptomatic patients</li></ul><p>The health-care field is increasingly using machine learning. It's already helping doctors develop <a href="https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2020/06/09/dc19-1870" target="_blank">personalized care plans for diabetes patients</a>, improving cancer screening techniques, and enabling mental health professionals to better predict which patients are at <a href="https://healthitanalytics.com/news/ehr-data-fuels-accurate-predictive-analytics-for-suicide-risk" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevated risk of suicide</a>, to name a few applications.</p><p>Health systems around the world have already begun exploring how <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7315944/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">machine learning can help battle the pandemic</a>, including better COVID-19 screening, diagnosis, contact tracing, and drug and vaccine development.</p><p>Cruzen said these kinds of tools represent a shift in how health systems can tackle a wide variety of problems.</p><p>"Health care has always used the past to predict the future, but not in this mathematical way," Cruzen said. "I think [Northwell Health's new predictive tool] really is a great first example of how we should be attacking a lot of things as we go forward."</p>
Making machine-learning tools openly accessible<p>Northwell Health has made its predictive tool <a href="https://github.com/northwell-health/covid-web-data-predictor" target="_blank">available for free</a> to any health system that wishes to utilize it.</p><p>"COVID is everybody's problem, and I think developing tools that can be used to help others is sort of why people go into health care," Dr. Cruzen said. "It was really consistent with our mission."</p><p>Open collaboration is something the world's governments and health systems should be striving for during the pandemic, said Michael Dowling, Northwell Health's president and CEO.</p><p>"Whenever you develop anything and somebody else gets it, they improve it and they continue to make it better," Dowling said. "As a country, we lack data. I believe very, very strongly that we should have been and should be now working with other countries, including China, including the European Union, including England and others to figure out how to develop a health surveillance system so you can anticipate way in advance when these things are going to occur."</p><p>In all, Northwell Health has treated more than 112,000 COVID patients. During the pandemic, Dowling said he's seen an outpouring of goodwill, collaboration, and sacrifice from the community and the tens of thousands of staff who work across Northwell.</p><p>"COVID has changed our perspective on everything—and not just those of us in health care, because it has disrupted everybody's life," Dowling said. "It has demonstrated the value of community, how we help one another."</p>
"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.
- The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
- It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
- Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We had to be really careful," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "We couldn't disturb anything at all, because at that point, it was under law enforcement investigation. They were telling us, 'Don't even make footprints,' and I was thinking, 'How are we supposed to do that?'"</p><p>Another difficulty was the mammoth size of the skull: about 7 feet long and more than 3,000 pounds. (For context, the largest triceratops skull ever unearthed was about <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02724634.2010.483632" target="_blank">8.2 feet long</a>.) The skull of Schmidt's dinosaur was likely a <em>Triceratops prorsus, </em>one of two species of triceratops that roamed what's now North America about 66 million years ago.</p>
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College<p>The triceratops was an herbivore, but it was also a favorite meal of the T<em>yrannosaurus rex</em>. That probably explains why the Dakotas contain many scattered triceratops bone fragments, and, less commonly, complete bones and skulls. In summer 2019, for example, a separate team on a dig in North Dakota made <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">headlines</a> after unearthing a complete triceratops skull that measured five feet in length.</p><p>Michael Kjelland, a biology professor who participated in that excavation, said digging up the dinosaur was like completing a "multi-piece, 3-D jigsaw puzzle" that required "engineering that rivaled SpaceX," he jokingly told the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">New York Times</a>.</p>
Morrison Formation in Colorado
James St. John via Flickr
|Credit: Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons|
Archaeologists discover a cave painting of a wild pig that is now the world's oldest dated work of representational art.
- Archaeologists find a cave painting of a wild pig that is at least 45,500 years old.
- The painting is the earliest known work of representational art.
- The discovery was made in a remote valley on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
Oldest Cave Art Found in Sulawesi<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a9734e306f0914bfdcbe79a1e317a7f0"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/b-wAYtBxn7E?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Persian polymath and philosopher of the Islamic Golden Age teaches us about self-awareness.