It’s one of the typical threads zapping across the Internet these days: the story of a police officer who threatened a homeless man in the cold (and it was cold!) a few days ago because of the number of complaints that had been called in about the man. There are lots of descriptions of the incident and references to the video: lots of reactions from the police and plenty of comments from citizens. I wasn’t going to write about it as an individual piece, but I changed my mind as I was going through some of the reports. I support the police and believe this was an isolated officer caught at a bad moment: I’ve also worked with the homeless and know how difficult they can be to communicate with. Sometimes the intersection of the two can get explosive.
Buried in several of those articles is one brief comment at the end: which I think strikes to the heart of the matter. (Interestingly this is often the same full quote.) “Coderre [Mayor of Montreal] reiterated his commitment to helping the homeless with a long-term strategy… ‘When was the last time you met a homeless person, looked him in the eye and asked him his name,’ he said. ‘It’s a question of dignity, as well.’” (Global News, 2014; The Star, 2014) It’s one thing to be offended by the officer’s actions, another to do something about the situation. It’s not going to be solved by “disciplinary actions” of one man; the problem will just be swept under the carpet (again). How many of us who are angered by this happening are willing to do something about the problem, rather than just complaining about the incident?
I did a quick search in the Internet: Google found 9,980 news reports on this topic, and yet only 142 included the mayor’s quote. What’s that, 1½ %? It would seem that we, as a society, are entirely to interested (by a factor of 98.5%) in identifying colourful problems than in working toward long-term solutions. When was the last time you got to know a homeless person, rather than just brushing him or her off?