Friday, June 22, 2007

Cops Are For The Big People

A few months ago I made a post where I asked the question, "If a homeless guy breaks another homeless guy's arm in the woods, does anyone give a shit?"

In case you weren't aware, the answer is "no."

One of our former vendors, a developmentally delayed man with an anger management problem, busted another guy's arm in a dispute over turf. We fired him but it wasn't a happy moment. Imagine a homeless eight year-old who is prone to violent temper tantrums and lives in a 40-year-old man's body and you have a pretty good picture of our guy. Most of the time, he's like a sweet little kid who just wants to be loved. But when he's mad, he can do some real damage.

In this case, he bashed another homeless guy with a trash can and busted up his arm and shoulder. It hasn't healed well. Mark, we'll call him, will probably have chronic pain for the rest of his life. On top of his homelessness, he now has a disability.

Mark told the police exactly where to find the man who did this, and they did nothing. We had them come to the Real Change office and take a report, but as soon as they learned that the accused lives at Union Gospel Mission, they folded up their notepads and lost interest.

Homeless on homeless crime doesn't count, because the homeless aren't really even people. They exist is a parallel universe where, so long as they stay the fuck away from the rest of us, they're on their own.

Today brought another example.

Last week we fired another vendor after numerous complaints of threats and rudeness to other vendors. We probably should have done it long ago. This guy, unlike our dangerously overgrown eight-year-old, has no redeeming characteristics whatsoever. He's a straight-up thug who doesn't seem to give a crap about anyone.

So today, a vendor we hadn't seen for awhile — a frail, late-stage alcoholic who wasn't in great shape to begin with — showed up for papers wearing a helmet. He'd been hospitalized for a month. After a bit of questioning, we learned that the guy we just fired had bashed his head in with a two by four over a turf dispute.

His skull, from which the doctors removed a good deal of crushed bone, is now deformed, and has a huge indentation from the injury. As one of our vendor staff put it, "I don't understand where his brain is."

Staff asked what we should do, and I said, "I want that fucker behind bars."

Well, it's not so easy. I mean, forget that police were summoned to the scene and reports were made, and that our thuggish former vendor isn't exactly some sort of master criminal who has somehow managed to skillfully evade capture.

Police just didn't care enough to investigate and make an arrest.

So, today, we called the West Precinct and said, "We know who did this and where you can find him."

And they said, "We can't do anything if the victim doesn't call himself." We explained that the victim is a frighted and confused late-stage alcoholic who now has brain damage to boot, and isn't a real effective self-advocate these days, but it didn't matter. He had to call himself.

So we talked with him and talked with him and finally convinced him it would be OK. He made the call. He dropped the phone out of sheer fright several times but was coaxed to pick it back up, and he followed through to the end.

Police said they were "on the way."

An hour later, he was still waiting. We called them again. They said it was a busy morning. Another hour and several more phone calls went by and they were still busy. After two hours of waiting, our man in the helmet with the caved in head had to go to an appointment. He said he'd come back and try again next week.

I called an attorney who has experience in these sorts of things and he said, "It's about big people and little people and who the law protects."

That pretty much says it all.

Our guy in the helmet says he's not giving up. Neither are we.


Stephany said...

I'm glad you are writing about this.One of the most profound statements that was told to me by a homeless person, "We are people too."

Same treatment sadly is often the case for mentally ill patients.

Another group of people I spoke with told me about when one of them was sick and was AMR'd to Harborview, the homeless girlfriend was removed from the lobby, by police escort, just for waiting there like anyone else.

They ended up giving her a taxi voucher for a womens shelter. At 3 am. She got dropped off no where near it and was lost, and placed in danger by this hospital[in my opinion].Inhumane treatment of anyone should not be tolerated.

hylarious said...

This is terrible. Maybe if the perp was outside a Bartell's drug store downtown, in a wheelchair, he'd get some attention from Officers Neubert and Tietjen.

I've heard that shelters are universally unwilling to call the police in the course of a dispute, because it makes the operation look bad. Cops are for the big people, and when they're not needed, the big people don't call.

leo said...

In my experiences with
cops its the same thing. Nothing gets done. You can always tell how long a homeless person has been on the streets by how much he or she hates the cops. Alot of homeless people will tell you when your homeless its like you don't count. Your treated like your not a human being.Homeless peoples responce, drugs, beer, turning mad at the world. The last one which I hate and have been there is seclution. The last one is really bad. Cops don't understand this, most of them don't care.I can go on about cops I'll stop for now. But about the little guy and the big guy. Well life on the streets. Survival of the fittest. Its sad it happens but it happens.

law dog said...

you aren't going to find much sympathy from this corner on your vendor problems. at least you have some authority...

I had vendors in SF who would routinely smoke crack and then verbally, physically, and sexually assault members of the public. and every time I'd kick one off the vending program, one of my campus communist / suburban socialist co-workers (read: the ones who'd never been homeless themselves) would buy into some lameass sob story and reinstate the vendor.

nice huh? it wasn't like the freaking newspapers or TV crews would be calling THEM out for a comment or explanation when one of the vendors finally puts some asshole tourist in the ER.

which is all a long way of saying that I'm much happier working at a law office where everyone's responsible and accountable to each other instead of playing dumb to avoid some insipid lecture about political correctness.