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Our Failure to Address Violence Against the Homeless

I knew him as a willing orator. At any given Memphis School for Servant Leadership gathering, he might rise and recite one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches. “Recite” is too tame a word. He would perform the speeches. From memory, without notes, with passion. I knew him as a part of the life of the school. I was quite taken with him.

Now I learn two new facts about him at once: he was homeless, and the police in another city killed him:

I’m glad a jury awarded his family $4.6 million in damages for his killing, but he’s still dead. If he were me—a white, well-off, straight woman—he wouldn’t be dead. I believe his death is the result of our belief, as a society, that a life is valued, either more or less, based on how much money we perceive the owner of that life to have. More money, more respect. Less money—well, no matter how talented you are, you may very well wind up on the floor of the jail in a deadly chokehold then tasered until you are dead.


I don’t know her, but she is the friend of my friends. She was sleeping on the streets but had been approved for housing. Soon, her ordeal would be over, but before that could happen she was attacked while sleeping in the doorway of a church.

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If she were me—a white, well-off, straight woman—she wouldn’t be in the hospital. I believe her attack is the result of our view, as a society, that only the lives of those who’ve earned our respect by conforming with our own values deserve a place of protection. Step outside the lines we draw, and you might end up in the ICU of the local trauma center, struggling to survive.


In my neighborhood, when a crime spree occurs (by which I mean cars are broken into), police surveillance increases. What has happened is this: the police have been given specific information on crimes that are greater-than-likely to occur, and they respond by giving protection that is greater-than-normal. So if we have a group of citizens, such as those experiencing homelessness, that we know are greater-than-likely to be victims of violence, shouldn’t we through our police be giving them greater-than-normal protection? Why instead do we hear about greater-than-normal police violence against homeless men and women? I think the answer lies in the values of our society I’ve described above. Those values seem to place “the homeless” who don’t conform to our values and have no money at the bottom of the list of those we care about.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

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