When I woke up today, thinking about getting ready to serve breakfast tomorrow morning, I had a knot in my stomach. Last Monday was not pretty. When I got there at 7:15am, there was a guy behind the tables where the volunteers are, a very tight space, as there is a concrete bench right behind the tables. Two members of our Monday breakfast crew were looking over their shoulders nervously. I got out of the car and several people came running over for a hug, and to help me unload. In a couple of minutes, I was able to get over there and I asked the guy to come out from behind the table. He immediately became belligerent. It was very difficult to understand what he was saying – he was stoned out of his mind and making very little sense. As we were serving, the guy got worse. Only once or twice have I ever felt threatened downtown, but this time, I did. I finally told him I would call the police, to which he responded with more yelling, mostly about not caring if I called the police. So I asked my friend Judy to please call, so I could keep an eye on this guy.
As soon as it became clear that the police were on the way, this young man made himself scarce, which was helpful. It’s difficult to have something like that going on when 10 other people are trying to talk to you all at once. About that time, a middle-aged woman who lives outside and looked as if she had had zero sleep, came over to tell me, “Man, it’s bad out here right now. Look!” And she rolled up her sleeves and pants legs to show me her bruises. She said, “Everybody’s getting beat up. It’s bad, really bad.” Then several other people came to echo what she had said.
When the police officer arrived, he introduced himself as a Corporal. I am not going to use his name, because I did not ask if I could quote him. He was very polite, and asked what was going on. I told him about the guy who was, at that point, nowhere to be seen. As I was talking to him, two women came to wait their turn to talk to him. One was the woman who had shown me her bruises. The other was a woman who has been in full-blown psychosis for several months. She speaks in sentence fragments without taking a breath in-between. The officer handled it extremely well, listening to her for probably 10-15 minutes before I managed to get over there and rescue him – a necessity with her, or he could have been there all day.
I then had a conversation with the officer, telling him that things seem to be particularly violent right now downtown, and sharing that several people had told me that today. He said, “Oh, boy! We know! You’re right.” We chatted a couple of minutes, and I told him I appreciate the service that he provides for our community. When I said that, the officer shook his head and looked at the ground. I asked if he saw the editorial piece “Let’s not paint police with a broad brush” I wrote in the News and Record last week that talked about the police department. He looked me in the eye, saying, “Ms. Murphy, I don’t read the “News and Record” anymore. They don’t say anything but bad stuff about our department. It seems like they have it in for us. I just can’t understand it. The officers who have done bad things are only a tiny fraction of us, but in the paper, it looks like it’s everybody. I just can’t read it anymore.”
My heart sank. I said, “Corporal ____, I hope you’ll look up that article. Not everyone feels that way. There are plenty of people who appreciate the valuable work that you do. Plenty.”
About that time, our stoned-out-of-his-mind friend came walking up, apologizing to me for his belligerence. He had a bandage on his hand and asked the police officer to call an ambulance for him. The officer also handled this guy extremely well, and when I told him a few minutes later that this was the guy I called about, he responded, “Well, at least he apologized.”
A lot was going on, the ambulance coming, lots of people talking, etc, but as I he was leaving, the officer looked back over his shoulder at me, and said, “Thank you, Ms. Murphy. I’m going to find that article.” And he smiled.
So… two things:
One, things cannot go on like they are with folks living outside. We keep doing the same thing, and expecting different results. One of our volunteers quit this week, and another one told me after breakfast that she felt threatened. Folks with substance abuse issues (read: opioid epidemic) and mental illness need major help from our community. We have got to move this buggy forward. People are getting hurt. And dying.
Two, please make sure you personally acknowledge the good work our law enforcement folks are doing. Write a letter to the editor of the “News and Record.” Stop and thank police officers when you see them. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Remember, this community belongs to every one of us and we are responsible for what’s going on. You and me.