Monday, March 11, 2013
Nathan Rivers, Wendy and I were just sitting on the porch talking. Nathan was finishing up his lunch, an entire rotisserie chicken!
During the course of his meal, Nathan shared a great one liner on his approach to the streets: "Yeah Larry, I walk softly and carry a big thought," he declared. "I look a long time before I leap!"
As we discussed Nathan's attempt to get off the streets and out of "the walk in," a Marshall's car passed by very slowly with the two officers giving the three of us a careful once over.
As the squad car pulled away, Nathan remarked, "Larry, they would have stopped if you hadn't been sitting here."
"Really?" I replied.
"You don't believe me?" Nathan asked. "The only reason they didn't stop is because you were sitting here."
"Because I'm white?" I pressed him.
"Yes sir, that's right," he answered.
Our conversation changed gears a bit as we discussed racism, profiling and how homeless persons are constantly hassled and shoved away from almost everywhere.
"Lots of patrol cars out here today," Nathan observed. "They must be doing a 'sweep' or something."
About 15 minutes later the same two marshals pulled slowly toward us. This time the car stopped and the officer lowered his window. Neither officer said a word. The driver simply pointed his finger at me and motioned for me to come over to the car.
I suppose I was a bit surprised.
"Me?" I asked.
He simply shook his head and nodded yes.
He also pointed to Nathan, skipping over Wendy, and motioned for him to come over as well.
We did as he instructed, moving over to the side of the car.
He asked for ID, which we both produced.
"Do you own this house?" he asked me, the first words he had spoken.
"No, my friend Billy at the gas station here owns the house," I answered, pointing to the station next door.
"Do you have permission to sit here," he went on.
"Yes, I do," I replied, as I turned toward the old service station and called out to Billy for his assistance.
As Billy walked over, the marshal turned to Nathan and asked, "What about you?"
As he attempted to explain Billy's hospitality, Billy leaned into the car and confirmed that the three of us were all his guests.
The officer handed back our identification documents, rolled up the window and drove away without a word.
Nathan spun out a calm, sad commentary on what had just happened.
"They drove around the corner and got their nerve up and came back and confronted you, Larry. It happens to us every day. There just ain't no place for us to go" he said.
Nathan had been to court that very morning to clear up a warrant for a "crime" he committed 7 years ago.
"What was the offense, " I asked him.
"'Sleeping in a public place'" he informed me.
"I'm such a criminal, Larry!" he joked as I noted his eyes filling with tears. "I'm as harmless as a teddy bear, Larry, really."
For his offense the judge directed that he do several hours of public service. He plans to volunteer at the CitySquare Food Pantry. He will be welcomed gladly.
As I've reflected on the day, our conversation, the marshals and the sadness, my emotions ranged from anger, to disgust, to sadness, to shame, to resignation.
One thing I know for certain: most of us have no clue as to how hard it is to be extremely poor and alone on the streets of a city like Dallas, Texas.
We simply must do better than this.