In Memory Of…

Posted: May 17, 2007 in Civil Rights, Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness

Yesterday morning, just shortly before 8 AM I was walking through the Mission Plaza on my way to the transit center. I noticed that the flags were at half-mast, a mid-step I noticed numerous police officers milling around.

Homeless people and police officers are a bit like oil and vinegar – they tend not to mix well. I think a lot of that has to do with the homeless being "hassled" by the police for a variety of reasons.

Someone will see two or three homeless people just standing or sitting around talking and they think it looks suspicious so they call the police who come out to investigate.  

In the 1 year, 6 months, 1 week and two days that I have been officially one of this community’s homeless, I have had my share of encounters with the police – not because I’m some sort of criminal or social malefactor, but because like many homeless people I happen to remain at certain locations "longer than necessary."

Actually, I have had more run in’s with the police since I’ve been homeless than in the entire 48 and a half years prior – and to be quite frank about it, it’s rather annoying – especially since there are real criminals out there that they should be trying to apprehend. Each occasion has been the same with the same questions being asked: What’s my name; do I have any identification; do I have an outstanding warrants; where do I stay; do I have any weapons, drugs or drug paraphernalia on my person; what’s in my backpack.

Several officers have actually begun to reach for my pack until I point out to them that unless they have my permission to do so or have a search warrant, searching my pack would violate my 4th Amendment rights.

The attitudes that I’ve encountered among those police who have stopped and questioned me have been about fifty-fifty: half have been courteous about it and the other half have been almost belligerent.

So needless to say, when I saw all of those police officers in the Mission Plaza yesterday morning I wasn’t all too pleased with the thought of having to walk through their ranks – not that I was doing anything wrong or illegal, but as the saying goes: "twice bitten, once shy."

Then all of a sudden, my curiosity managed to get the better of me and I walked up to one of the officers and asked what was going on. He told me that it was Police Officer’s Memorial Week and that there was going to be a ceremony to honor those officers who had died this past year. When I asked him how many had died, this officer told me he didn’t remember the exact number but he thought is was around eleven. All of a sudden, I felt this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

As I walked the rest of the way to the transit center to catch the bus, I began wondering about those officers who had died: who were they, how long were they on the force; did they leave behind spouses and children.

Throughout the rest of the day I found myself thinking about what that one officer had said that it had been "around eleven."

I thought about the different police offices that I’ve dealt with since becoming homeless and wondered if any of those where among those who had died. I hoped not. And, although I haven’t been too please with the way I have been treated by some of the police officers that have stopped me and requested identification, they were nonetheless doing a job that modern day society requires of them.

In the end, we live in a world where there is crime and criminals. As a result, we need law enforcement to protect all of society. Sometimes we need police to protect us from ourselves.

To be sure, there a bad officers, but I believe that for the most part, most police officers are decent people who are doing a difficult job; a job that places them at risk each time they respond to a call. It’s a job that needs doing and one that I’m glad is getting done.

I don’t know the names of those officers who were being memorialized yesterday morning – but I’m glad that there service to our community is being recognized and their lives are being celebrated.

Although I lack a home, I still retain my humanity. And I too, in my own spirit, can mourn the passing of those police officers who died last year…

…It is to them that I respectfully dedicate this posting.


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