[Hpn] STREET SHEET Spotlights the Most Remarkable News Story of 2002

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Wed, 22 Jan 2003 17:20:56 -0800

STREET SHEET Spotlights the Most Remarkable News Story of 2002

by chance martin

"Write about something positive. There's a world full of canned worms out
there and you're always running around with your Swiss army knife. Write
something for readers to feel good about."

This past year the American public solidified its collective denial while
the American juggernaut lurched ever closer to war with a frequently
re-defined Axis of Evil, meaning very few local stories that didn't involve
crimes, scandals, or violence managed to penetrate the national news
sources' seasonal "white out" of feel-good holiday articles contrived to
spotlight some high-profile charitable institution.

For mainstream media, charity is very sexy during the holidays. And while
charity's ideal probably represents the sole spiritual employment of wealth,
charitable institutions certainly can't do much to end poverty and
homelessness. Charity at best can only provide temporary relief from the
suffering poverty and homelessness create.

The news seemingly seeks to have all of us little people believe that such
seasonal expressions of individual generosity are the remedy to poverty and
homelessness, so as the numbers of homeless Americans continue to spiral
upward, most of us are left frustrated and angry to see homeless people
continue to die at our doorsteps.

That's because ending the suffering requires employing a somewhat less
probable spiritual ideal -- justice.

A just society requires little charity.

Charity could be described as employing wealth justly. In a just society the
charitable ideal is a year-long practice, but because the overreaching goal
of a society that would call itself Just is ending unnecessary suffering,
charitable institutions whose philosophies advocate a more just society
might represent the best bang for the buck. Charitable organizations can
promote generous and more just communities.

But such a society requires more than generosity with money, it requires a
generosity of spirit -- and not only with those who can easily benefit from
our attentions, but especially with the least members of our human family.
The same people with whom many of us seem to find offense at the very fact
of their existence. Let's term the human capacity to treat each other justly
as kindness. 

Real kindness is being unconditionally charitable.

The American psyche is undeniably invested in seeing itself as a just
society -- and most lately to further rationalize military aggression -- so
simple themes like justice and kindness seem to be qualities that are harder
and harder for folks to find in the news.

Anyone who's ever panhandled, or sold a STREET SHEET, or held a political
fundraiser, or organized a direct mail campaign, etc., prefers donations
from folks who feel it's the right thing to do, not because the donor feels
guilty or pressured. As someone once quipped, it's much easier to demand
justice than it is to ask for money.

We could also argue whether panhandling is more symptomatic of humans with
an economic disorder or of an economy with a humanity disorder, but the fact
remains that successful panhandlers and STREET SHEET vendors alike must
develop human contact with patrons because most people are good, and are
often moved to kindness -- to do right by one another as well as the
community at large.

Good recognizes good, so when we do find ourselves in need -- when we must
rely on kindness of strangers -- a kind stranger is the best kind of
stranger we can find. And sometimes we can see that when everyday people act
from the goodness in their hearts even a single act of kindness can

Kindness can create radical change.

Imagine that.

If you disagree, we understand -- but that doesn't mean that we'll close our
eyes, or our hearts. Besides, if no-one bothered to envision a better world
and then found the courage to act from their hearts to make it happen, not
much could ever change. But what we just described are some reasons why we
found the following holiday news story so remarkable.

At first glance, we might have overlooked this story because it fit the
typical profile of local stories picked up by the national newsfeeds. It
involved a cop (crime), and a bit of a scandal. Well, maybe not as big a
scandal as the doings of some our local copsŠ doubtlessly inducing
handsprings of joy from local researchers attempting to prove genetic causes
for alcoholism. Regardless, the officer we're talking about was held
accountable for his deed, and he was disciplined for his scandal.

On November 22, 2002, Officer Eduardo Delacruz, an eight-year rank and file
veteran of the NYPD -- an outfit already undeniably distinguished for
sacrifice and duty in the public interest -- was working NYPD's "Homeless
Outreach Unit," rousting homeless people out of a New York shopping
district. Retailers and businesses in New York, as here, are always seeking
scapegoats to account for shortfalls in expected revenues, never mind the
economy. We're not here to evaluate the efficacy of such extraordinary
efforts to salvage some retailers' disappointing holiday season bottom line.

When he came across 44 year-old Stephen Neil sleeping in a Manhattan parking
garage, Officer Delacruz refused to arrest him for trespassing because he
knew there was nowhere else for this homeless guy to go. The New York Times
quoted the devout Catholic, husband, and father telling his superiors, "I
told you before, I'm not going to do it. I won't arrest an undomiciled

NYC has always ranked right beside San Francisco and Atlanta as the most
egregious examples of local police departments selectively enforcing the
now-ubiquitous, so-called "quality of life" laws that criminalize homeless
people for survival activities like sleeping, so the fact that Officer
Delacruz broke ranks to act from his heart was remarkable in itself. And no
matter how we might characterize his action, most would find agreement that
disobeying a direct order -- right or wrong -- required no small amount of

Experience tells us cops aren't likely to be very compassionate toward
homeless people. But Delacruz was pretty remarkable. According to Newsday,
this policeman carried old blankets and clothing in his car to distribute to
street people, and enjoyed reminding the other officers that Jesus Christ
was homeless, too.

But because the 37 year-old Officer Delacruz held the simple moral
conviction that arresting the Mr. Neil was the wrong thing to do, and
because this simple moral conviction was in direct conflict with his
superior's orders, Delacruz was immediately placed on 30 days suspension
without pay... during the holidays.

"He's a good guy -- he's got a heart," asserted one of his homeless
supporters. "He knows it's not a crime to be homeless, and the NYPD should
be ashamed of itself."

Here we could ponder that perhaps it was that fateful September morning when
New York's towering monuments to capitalism were rendered to a smoking hole
for the newscamera's terrorized benefit, or maybe it was those bagpipes
balefully moaning "Amazing Grace" in the funeral season that followed, or
maybe it was just the moonlight that particular New York winter evening --
whatever the impetus, it would certainly seem that something rather
remarkable happened in Officer Eduardo Delacruz's life as well, something
that spoke to the better angels of his nature... something that made him
decide that jailing homeless people for being homeless wasn't the right
thing to do, orders and consequences be damned.

Call it an act of conscience.

We call it radical change.

And that was a pretty remarkable story, but the story didn't end there.

On December 24, the Associated Press reported that a group of 30 homeless
and formerly homeless people presented Officer Delacruz, his wife, and their
five children with a check in the amount of $3000.00. AP also reported the
three grand came mostly from recycling cans and bottles, panhandling and,
yes, lots of it came from homeless people's welfare checks.

"We just wanted to thank him by contributing however we could," explained
one of the homeless donors, "And a lot of us gave quarters, nickels and

And who knows? Maybe Officer Delacruz's NYPD buddies even sweetened a few
beggars' cups to help the effort. Officers will do that sometimes, anyway.
It was the holidays, after all.

It certainly isn't like we can say we've never seen a cop be compassionate
and kind toward homeless people.

At least, not anymore.

And that's why Officer Eduardo Delacruz's story is so remarkable.

Charity, justice, strangers, kindness, police officers and homeless people,
and how a single act of kindness can multiplyŠ creating radical change.

Perhaps it's multiplying even now.

*   *   *   *   *

And perhaps this would also be a great opportunity for us to say a big THANK
YOU to all the many kind people who responded so generously to the Coalition
on Homelessness' holiday fundraising campaign -- our most successful ever!
Thanks for sharing in our vision of a just society, because it would never
be possible without your help.

(1485 words)

chance martin, Project Coordinator
A Publication of the Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco
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