Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Real Problem with Race and Homelessness and more in Greenville...

The fallout from yesterday and the day before's incident will tell the tale.  Sometimes the true value of an incident is not in the thing itself but our reaction to it, or in this case, the lack thereof.  There was outrage at the idea that one our citizens could not walk the street in a well lit area at a reasonable hour without being bothered.  The fact that the bothering came from the police should be more telling.

Yesterday, I went to every official and person of standing in the community that I knew.  I talked to professors, pastors, rabbis, county council members, news outlets and the readers of this blog (here is yesterday's).  The readership spiked, people spoke about their outrage in private messages but there was nothing done.  I did not receive a single response from anyone of our leaders.

I did speak to one person in City Hall.  Her response?  Not outrage. (I always liked Al Pacino's line in City Hall where he as mayor says, "If a sparrow dies in Central Park, I feel responsible")walking in the neighborhood that I was in at that hour (7:30 p.m.) was suspicious behavior apparently. Who knew I was not allowed to be outside after dark?
 Not annoyance at the fact that an officer treated a citizen so poorly.  I was told that I should not have been walking and that I should buy a car.  A person

We like to believe these days are over...
I talked to groups that have led talks about racism and more in the area and have asked questions among a very select peer group and they said nothing.  Apparently when they conduct surveys and have talks about outreach, they see nothing wrong.  Of course, the survey pool is affluent whites and a smattering of well educated minorities.  When they talk to them, they say that everything is just great! Fine and dandy.

The thing that this has shown me is that the goal is not to end homelessness, but to get rid of the homeless.  The two are very different.  We don't want to house them, we want to get them off the streets.  How do we do that?  We apparently don't care as long as they are out of sight.  We are ok with tent city because that is where "they" live.  It is ok to live in a tent on public property as long as no one can see you...There! Problem solved!  The homeless are told with tacit agreement that "You can live in the woods along the Swamp Rabbit Trail, as long as no one complains."

We are a giving people in the south.  We reach out, we really do...At Christmas and Thanksgiving.  The other 363 days of the year, well...

Craig Steven Ray Brown was found dead early in July 2013 by a churchgoer in Downtown Greenville.  Robin Banta was shot in the chest off the Swamp Rabbit Trail at about the same time, but his body was not found until about a month later in August. Jackie Goldman died in November while sleeping outside of a closed Bi-Lo store.

These people drift in and out of our lives and exist in the periphery of the world.  We notice them floating around, pass them on the street and we sometimes buy them coffee or a muffin.  Not to wax religious, but we are told that we will be judged by how we treat the least among us.

People are telling me that I should engage in a lawsuit and scream bloody murder about the way I have been treated.  I am inclined to. I thought it best to engage in the conversation first. I thought we should try to talk about this before it goes to far, to hold our tongues, to do the right thing first.

The fallout is the thing.  Where are our leaders, where are the people who are supposed to work to solve our problems not just those of the ones who vote for them?  Where are the officers who are supposed to serve and protect everyone, not just those who look like they are supposed to be in a particular area?

Too many people disappear without anyone knowing anything of them.  When (not if but when), I get stopped again, I am not going to be so cooperative.  We are not required to show ID unless the officer has a reasonable suspicion that a crime has taken place and that I am a part of it.  I am not going to.  The next time (and it will happen again) that I walking along, minding my own business, I am simply going to ask the officer if I am under arrest and if so we go from there and I hope that someone notices that I am gone.

Last night, after a sleepless night the night prior, I was tired.  I was about 3 miles from home when I decided to end my day and it was 7:30.  Normally, on a night last night, I would walk home to clear my head.  Last night, though, I asked someone to drive me home.  Was I scared of being mugged?  No...I was scared I would be stopped by the cops...again.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Is there a record for being stopped by the cops for no reason?

Yesterday afternoon was beautiful. It was so warm that I decided to take a walk and check my e-mail via stolen wi-fi at Starbucks. On my way back the sidewalk was so icy and the roads were clear so I decided to walk in the road, stepping deftly out of the way when a car was coming. I was nearly home, in fact I could see my back window across the parking lot of Sirrine Stadium, when a squad car pulled up in front of me, blocking traffic. The officer stepped out and asked me where I was going and to show him ID. He said that I (not "someone", but me in particular) had been walking up and down the street stopping cars and asking people for money. Two other cops arrived and one stood behind me while the first patted me down. My ID was ran (again) and no warrants, etc. were found. The officer promptly told me to stop asking people for money because "ain't nobody got any money for you". When I insisted that I had not been, he threatened to run me in just for walking in "his" street. I walked away but not before he told me that I was not allowed to cut through the Sirrine Stadium parking lot, but that I had to walk around. This was 7:30 at night...the street was well lit, and the officer who was standing behind me even acknowledged that I was wearing bright clothes and that this was just something they had to do. I have had some humiliating moments in my life, but this was one of the worst. Sadly, I have lost track of the number of times this has happened to me since getting back to the south.-

People wonder why others look at the south the way they do.  I wonder three things about this incident.  First, I wonder if someone had actually called the police on me.  I am investigating that.  There always seems to be some random justifications for officers pulling me over.  "We have had a lot of break ins in the area." "A person fitting your description was reported..." It is never anything specific.  It is always rather vague.

Second, I wonder if someone had called, then if they were calling to complain or because they thought that I was someone who needed help.  My better angel wants to say that someone passed me and thinking that I was homeless and in need of assistance, called the police so that they would get me off the street.  Considering the goal of the police is ostensibly to serve and protect, shouldn't the goal of that stop be to help someone in need rather than threaten to run them in?  If I were, in fact, out there asking for money and shouldn't they have been asking if they could get me to a shelter or a hot meal, or even just a hot cup of coffee?

The third thing is the fact that I recognized two of the three officers.  One of the officers had stopped me a few weeks prior and we went through the same thing only that time it was six officers all total.  Still THAT was not the first time I had met this particular officers.  The first time was when he and three officers stopped me while collecting the compost from a dumpster some months before.  I see that officer a lot.  Most days, I see him at Starbucks.

The other officer that I recognized was the one who made the initial stop.  At first I could not place where I had seen him, but midway through be treated so poorly, it struck me.  I had been walking along main street in Greenville one morning and I heard pretty much the same speech that he had given me, being delivered to a homeless man who was telling him the same thing that I was; that he was not asking anyone for money, he was just sitting there trying to charge his cell phone at an open public outlet.  This man was not as eloquent as I and was (I honestly could not tell) either drunk or had some other mental problem and was slurring his words.  The officer proceeded to berate the man to the point where I felt inclined to intervene.  He told the man to move along and that was the end of it.

Part of me wants to say that race was an issue, that is a common retreat, but I am not sure that it was entirely.  I think that a lot of it has to do with class or with a notion of a power trip.  Either way, I feel the whole thing was unprofessional and demeaning, especially if Greenville wants to grow as a city.  With officers like this around and actively harassing people who are literally minding their own business.  I was walking in the street and I spoke with several officers this morning who said that he could have run me in, I admittedly was walking down the middle of the street, but he would have a tough time explaining to a judge the waste of time and effort that it would take to take me in on a night when others were in legitimate danger and my only crime was not being dressed well.

Leaving the situation, I felt humiliated and somehow less of a human being.  I went home and watched television for a little while but I wondered about those who could not easily shake such a thing.  Had I actually been homeless, could I sat in my corner of the world and not found solace in a bottle or a needle in my arm.  Last night and many other nights and even some afternoons, I was treated like shit.  It is all to common.  It won't be the last time I am stopped.  How do we stop this?