I was at the local coffee shop grabbing a cup of joe, hold the half and half, and noticed a homeless man kind of loitering in the street nearby. He seemed out of place, lost maybe, and disoriented. Several of the patrons in the store were snickering and making snide comments about the man. I’d seen him before, but he was never this bad off. I was about to order my breakfast and felt something inside me saying, this just isn’t right.
I went outside and began speaking to the man. Instantly I see he’s prideful and agitated. His clothes are dirty and his shoes are torn and ragged. I looked him in the eyes. What I saw was sadness and desperation. Nevertheless, a man in his shoes, unlike many other homeless folks I’ve met, would not and has not ever asked for money. He cannot work due to physical injuries. I have no idea if he collects welfare. I have my own opinions about the welfare system. I feel I have to pay for everyone who doesn’t work as well as for myself and family, but when you’re right there in the moment, you can’t think about that because it really doesn’t matter then.
I offered to buy the man some food and drink. He refused and became agitated further. Obviously I’d disrespected him. Now an audience had formed at the coffee shop. I felt the stinging glares on my back and heard the giggling. I resisted the urge to identify myself to him and ask him to kindly move along. That was the easy route.
Finally he asked, “What do you care?” When I’d asked him if there was anything I could do to help him.
Hmm, great question I thought. “Because someone has to, right?” He just looked at me funny.
“Listen, bub, why don’t you just leave me be?” He asked. I could tell he was hungry because the people who came outside with muffins and bagels caught his attention. He stared at the food as it went by.
I replied. “I can’t. You might get hit by a car. Why don’t you take a seat,” I said as I pointed at the bench in front of the store. He looked at me and we stared at each other. I could only imagine what was going through his head. He finally went to sit down. He stumbled and began to fall. Without hesitation I grabbed him and dropped some cash on the ground right where he was. No way anyone saw that. A lady came out and helped me stable the man and get him seated.
Once he was content, I pointed to the money and said, “Hey, you dropped some money.” The man looked at the money, at me, back to the money and shook his head.
I shook my head. “Me either.” Obviously this wasn’t going to work. I was frustrated, but determined to find some way to help him. As I struggled for another idea, a man exited the coffee shop and asked if he could help.
“Sure,” I said.
He began speaking to the seated man and he listened intently. The man from the coffee shop offered the man a place to stay and wash up and said he could pick from his clothing and shoes to get him back on his feet. I was shocked. More importantly, the man agreed! I was pretty happy for him, and thankful the stranger came along to help. They turned to walk away.
I shook both of their hands and patted the homeless man on his back. At the same time I slipped some cash in his coat pocket. I’ll never know what happens with him or the money, but it seems by just talking to him, reaching out to him, he will have at least a decent rest of today. And, isn’t that all we can ask for? Just live day by day and try to be happy.
Anyway, I’m a cop and there were several other ways, perhaps even less friendly ways, to have dealt with this situation. However, hiding problems is not the answer. Taking them head on, in my opinion, is the only way to deal with them effectively. Just remember there are plenty of compassionate law enforcement members out there trying to do good things for people.
4-27-14 Compassionate Cops?
I seem to be having a tough time getting my brothers and sisters in law enforcement to submit work regarding the compassionate side of what we do and how we live. I can’t let this concept go to the wayside; however, and have decided to put my own work up in a serialized fashion. That is, when I see compassion or feel compassionate about something, I’ll post it on this page on my blog. Among all the other stuff in my life I can’t guarantee this will be regular, but I’ll do my best to keep this thing alive 🙂
The most recent thing I can recall is members of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office conducting a fundraiser event for Special Olympics. Many people in the general public who are not fans of law enforcement believe officers “just do these events to keep a decent public image.” Not true. The men and women I see volunteering hundreds of hours of time for planning, preparing, soliciting, and running these events is overwhelming. They do it because they are kind people, and feel the need to help others. It’s why they wear a badge and swear to protect society. It runs through our blood, an insatiable thirst to do good for others, particularly for those who may not be able to to it for themselves, or those who need a tiny bit of assistance.
Men and women wearing a badge are ordinary people just like everyone else. Many of them have children with special needs, debilitating diseases, or huge obstacles to overcome. They cry and stress out just like you. We’re not any better than the next person, we’ve just chosen a profession that is highly visible and overly scrutinized. All that we can ask is that society is a fair to us as we are to them every time we show up to a call. Nothing more, nothing less. Law enforcement, in my eyes, is the social glue that keeps society together and allows cohesion to form among all members of society. We aren’t looking for handouts or freebies. Our primary mission is to serve and protect, but it would sure feel great to believe we are on the same playing field as the rest of society.
Thanks and God Bless,
C. L. Swinney