A Day In Court

Posted: May 16, 2008 in Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness, Misconceptions

Earlier this afternoon I took a break and turned on the television to what was on. As it turned out I found myself watching Judge Judy. You know who she is. She’s one of many judges on who knows how many TV courtroom programs.

Afterward, I switched over to the news but I couldn’t seem to get the idea of courtrooms out of my mind.  

Our nation is based on the rule of law – or at least, that’s what the brochure says. As a result, in the event that there are legal disputes between people, or between society and a person or persons, it winds up in the halls of justice for arbitration. There, both sides of the dispute are heard and then a decision is rendered.

The great thing about the way our judicial system works is that only factual evidence is allowed to be presented as a means of determining which side is in the right and which side isn’t. Moreover, only evidence that is directly pertinent to the case is allowed. Assumptions, speculations, rhetoric, theories or anything else which cannot be proven is disallowed as a method for determining the truth.

While our judicial system may not be 100 percent perfect, for the most part it works and justice is served. It certainly beats flipping a coin as a method for determining the truth.

All of that started me wondering about things we believe. How much of what we perceive to be the truth would actually stand up in the court of law?

A large majority of people have preconceived notions about the homeless: that they’re all drunks; drug addicts; too lazy to work; unintelligent; social malcontents; and the list goes on and on.

We see a homeless person and we think we know why that person is homeless, or why they remain homeless. But how often do we take the time to find out if what we perceive is based on actual fact or whether we are just parroting what someone else has said? How often do we take the time to investigate the situation for ourselves and then make a conclusion?

I’m willing to bet that there are very few people who, when they see a homeless person, pause to wonder why that person is homeless. For some reason, that’s one of the thoughts that doesn’t come to mind first – if at all.

Even those of us who actually give a panhandler a dollar or two often times tell that person to make sure and not buy drugs or alcohol with the money we’re giving them. And, when we do that we’ve just made an assumption based on "facts not in evidence."

It would be one thing, if we knew beyond every shadow of a doubt that that person was going to get drunk or high with the money. But if we haven’t taken the time to find out about that person, if we haven’t put forth the effort to know what the truth is, then we’ve become judge and jury – without the benefit of knowing all the facts.

What makes it worse is if we assume something about that person simply because we’ve seen other homeless who are perhaps unsavory characters. We’ve passed judgment on that person based on the merits – or lack or merits – of someone else. Surely that isn’t right.

Let’s face it; none of us wants to be viewed in a negative light based purely on assumptions – assumptions that are rooted in speculation. We’d all like to be judged on our own merits and not those of other people.

That being the case, isn’t it wrong of us to believe that all homeless are the same; that they all behave the same; that they are all unworthy of our compassion?

When we see a homeless person trudging down the street under the weight of their backpack, or when we see a homeless person who is panhandling, or one who is sitting on a public bench with all of their worldly belongings sitting on the bench next to them, what is the first thought that comes to our minds? Is it a thought based on fact; based on actually knowledge?

When we pass judgment on the character of any homeless person without knowing the facts, we become a plaintiff who may be bringing false charges against an innocent defendant.

Would those charges hold up in a court of law, or would the case be dismissed?

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