Thursday, July 26, 2007

fresh off the lot

I had a meeting at the shelter yesterday and when I pulled up I noticed 10 or so cops standing at the curb. Fearing the worst I headed directly over to inquire, my mind racing on the way (raid, drug bust, escaped killer loose inside the building) but when I reached them the guy in charge said he was taking the new boys fresh from the academy on a tour so they could see what a homeless person looks like.

After I introduced myself he turned to them and said hey guys, listen up. She can tell you what a homeless person smells like, looks like, and acts like. I took friendly umbrage and let them know that i actually couldn't tell them what a homeless person looks like any more than I could tell them what a sick person or rich person looks like because as with all people, there isn't one way a homeless person looks, or for that matter, smells. I tried instead to talk about why folks were homeless and all 20 eyes were steely hard, so young and fresh but so unflappable already.

I was considering dancing a little jig to lighten the mood when the head cop says I wouldn't want your job for anything in the world. Having to be compassionate all the time, understanding...I could never do it. I replied that I thought my job seemed much easier than theirs, having to only show up in times of trouble seemed much less rewarding than actually seeing both sides. It was clear neither of us was going to move from our postion of assumed rightness so I left them to their own devices and walked into a now empty shelter. That many police on site have a way of doing that.

The message the new boys was getting was such a jaded one - these folks are bad and need to be contained, get the job done and move on. I'd hate to have that sort of mindset, no matter what self-preservation it allowed.

Am packed and ready, minor butterflies already safely inside my stomach. I kept M up way too late and took way too long leaving her room and I am missing her and J already. But hours from now I'll be celebrating women and writing and toasting the lot of us for continued inspiration and community.

And before you go, stop by here and help Parker. He needs as much love and support as we can muster. And she's got a relatively new blog and I like it a lot.


Christine said...

that must have been a frustrating and surreal experience with the cops.

have fun this weekend. i'll be thinking of all of you!

Pendullum said...

My dad was a cop and quite the opposite to your experience... when we were kids, he would bring us to the homeless shelter... We were no better than these people, no worse... Just for the grace of god...
Never look down on someone... You should always look them in the eye...
And if you chose to give someone money who is down and out... Look them in the eye... as they deserve that respect...

Kyla said...

I think this part, "I wouldn't want your job for anything in the world. Having to be compassionate all the time, understanding...I could never do it." tells a lot about that police officer. He is lacking in compassion and he's passing it on to the new trainees.

But Pendullum's story about her dad made me tear up. These are the officers we need. Those who are respectful and we can respect in turn.

I cannot wait to meet you, jen. :)

kristen said...

Seems like a sad situation to see someone so limited in his vision, with a position to influence, sending out a message like that. Teaching rookies what homeless smells like? Wow.

Safe travels my friend and I'll see you tomorrow!! xo

Jenn said...


Dead fish on your linked blog, ya coulda warned me.


I'm not sure if it is more sad or frightening, that those sworn to protect and serve don't feel they can be compassionate.


Have fun! I'll miss you!

mitzh said...

I'd rather have your job and be as compassionate as you are.

Have fun and be safe!

kaliroz said...

wow, that cop. that just seems crazy.

have fun! i'm jealous!

Mad Hatter said...

"What a homeless person smells like"? That guy needs to take a sensitivity traing course. Thankfully not all cops are like that. Sometimes the cops who work the beat in neighbourhoods where there is a high degree of homelessness become as compassionate as the shelter workers. They see the faces in the community and reply to their needs as citizens not enforcers. It's just too bad that these partucular young recruits were not being given that picture.

Have fun. Am off to pout now.

Julie Pippert said...

Oh. Oh Jen, this the people you report in this story...I feel sick with sad. I'm afraid, I really am. Of police. More so than of a homeless person. What's that say? It says I've had more negative and upsetting interactions with police than with homeless. Wait, that makes me sound like a criminal. No, I mean casual interaction like you describe.

I know not all are like this, thank goodness.

But here's one in charge TEACHING new be just like him.


I say letter this and mail it to the right people.

Have a ball at Blogher!

Bon said...

pouting with Mad here in the Maritime corner. and sad, sad, sad about that cop and his perception that compassion isn't as necessary in his job as it is in yours.

have a joyous time. and miss us a little, 'kay?


Deezee said...

You see so much. Daily stings into the soul.

But here's to big revitalization at BlogHer! I hope we'll see pictures!

Lawyer Mama said...

Oh, geez. That's a scary story. Very scary. I'd like to think that there are compassionate people and those who aren't in (almost) every job. I hope so.

Can't wait to meet you!

Susanne said...

Yep, sensitivity training. If there is such a thing...

I hope yo'll have a blast at blogher.

slouching mom said...

I KNOW this is biased, but I'm gonna say it anyway.

Cops and sensitivity don't overlap much.

(I've had bad experiences with cops twice.)

I'm sure there are sensitive police officers out there, but to me it seems they are more the exception than the rule.

Have a great time!

mamatulip said...

Have fun this weekend, friend.

Wayfarer Scientista said...

Oh wow! You linked me!! I feel so honored.

As for that experience - how sad! I've met both kinds of cops and like the rest of the proffessions out there they have the range of humanity only they also have the power behind it and it is very scary when someone with power is so ignorant. I hope some of those new cops present had the ears to hear you over him.

thailandchani said...

So many people are afraid of the drain they perceive as coming from being compassionate all the time. Maybe a bit of diabolus advocatus here but I can't imagine being a cop and trying to be always compassionate.

They have to compartmentalize everything into little boxes and threat assessments.

I couldn't have that job for anything!


But really.. what a homeless person smells like? Did he define that?

What does he expect, given the circumstances.... roses?


Safe travels to you! :)



nomotherearth said...

I am starting to have a really jaded opinion of what cops are like. They really should evaluate their sensitivity levels and get help for those who need it.

flutter said...

unfortunately I think when cops get called into a situation with some homeless people, they both get the shit end of the know having to deal with a drug or alcohol kind of situation.

The cops that I know, in my family and The Boy's family are compassionate and wonderful men and women who care and want to help. They do exist...surely as your heart is gold, jen, they do exist.

Laurie said...

You've said it well, Jen.

Have fun at blogher.


crazymumma said...

aaaahhh. All that sensitivity training the force is getting sure is working.

I'll go look att hose other blogs.

Have fun and wish that I was there!

Jocelyn said...

Oh, do enjoy Blogher! I can't wait for the rundown.

I'm immensely glad those cops ran into you and heard your views. Some of it will resonate.

Aliki2006 said...

That type of cynicism makes me sad, too.

Havea great time--I can't wait to hear about it!

liv said...

Thanks for the new link to entertain me while I am NOT at BlogHer and not blogging and not whining about it. Should you run into meno and Ms. Chica, remember that Chica has my mobile number and you should call me when exceedingly drunk with terrible gossip. k? thx!

Anonymous said...

Good for you for what you said to them. As unflappable as their eyes were, you never know when your words might sink into their subconcious. This reminds me of a few years ago when a police academy in Massachusetts got in trouble for teaching their students that Mexican people would be less affected by pepper spray because they eat such spicy food.

Daisy said...

I have taught homeless kids in my classes, and they look, act, and smell just like any other kid. Just as bad after recess on a hot day, in fact! They sometimes have a harder time learning if their "home" life is chaotic, but compassion can go a long way. Keep it up, ya hear?!

Wacky Mommy said...

You know how it goes, hon. When people say, "You can't save them all" you can say, "I saved that one."

You do more good work in one day than many people do in a whole year. Keep it going.

Kevin said...

Your post was wonderful. And, it reaffirms my belief that most cops are clueless and a good many are idiots who do not deserve to "protect and serve."

It hits me rather strange that many of the bullies from high school ended up being cops. I think this shows a pattern and a mentality.

But, perhaps I am biased.