I guess this is why people call liberals like me “bleeding hearts.” This past Sunday's installment of 60 Minutes featured a story reporting that teenage-male violence against homeless people is a fad that's on the rise. I don't know if it made my heart bleed; there was no sharp pain in my chest or anything. But it did make me sad. And it made me frustrated—I get frustrated when I don't understand something. And random brutality against helpless people is something I'll never understand.
And it made me angry, especially the part when Ryan McPherson, the piece of human slime responsible for the “Bumfights” DVD produced, lucratively, right here in San Diego County (in which he and a partner coerced alcoholic homeless men to beat each other silly for entertainment), responded with such nonchalant indifference when told that a boy who helped beat a man to death said he and his mates had been mimicking “Bumfights.” McPherson, fully embodying the darkest side of human nature, didn't seem to care.
But McPherson wasn't the only local hook in the program. There was another one hidden in a comment made by a professor interviewed by correspondent Ed Bradley. Trying to explain what could drive young people to commit such unspeakable acts, Brian Levin, who teaches criminology at Cal State San Bernardino, said one of the factors is an overarching belief that homeless people are simply lazy and shiftless. Consequently, the logic goes, they are intentionally burdening the rest of us responsible, hard-working citizens. If bored teenage boys need to entertain themselves through violence, what better targets than these worthless sloths, right?
Hearing that opinion, my mind immediately raced back to the editorial published in the Sept. 24 edition of the Union-Tribune, headlined “Rue de Homeless.” It was a remarkably cynical, sarcastic rebuke of City Attorney Mike Aguirre's good-faith attempt to settle a lawsuit filed against the city by advocates of the homeless who want San Diego cops to stop ticketing people for sleeping in public places. Aguirre was willing to pitch to the City Council an idea to designate a safe zone where people can lawfully sleep at night without fear of being issued tickets they obviously can't pay and sent to jail.
The unnamed writer of the editorial, presumably supported by the entire editorial board, considered Aguirre's idea “absurd” and the federal appeals court decision that prompted it “imbecilic.” The writer was far more concerned about the impact public urination might have on property values than the plight of human beings who live in a city that has far more homeless people than shelter beds. The writer became somewhat hysterical about Aguirre's plan being hatched behind closed doors.
Never mind that lawsuit settlement negotiations always happen in private. Never mind that Aguirre wouldn't be able to settle the suit without approval from the City Council. Never mind that the court decision, far from being “imbecilic,” represents a reasonable opinion that the U.S. Constitution protects people engaging in a necessary biological function—sleeping—from government punishment when they have no alternative. Never mind that the editorial suggested exactly zero solutions to fill the gap between the number of shelter-less people and the number of places for them to stay at night.
Never mind all that. What was truly sickening about the editorial was its repeated use of the word “vagrants” as a synonym for homeless people. It used it five times. My Webster's dictionary says “vagrant” means “a person who wanders about idly and has no permanent home or employment; vagabond,” and one of the meanings of “idle” is “habitually doing nothing or avoiding work; lazy.”
It would seem that the sentiment that, in part, drives teenage boys to repeatedly crack homeless men over the head with baseball bats and metal bars is shared by the U-T editorial board. Is it a stretch to say that the U-T is giving hoodlums the go ahead to do such atrocious things here in San Diego? Maybe. Maybe not. I tell you one thing for sure, the paper's doing nothing to dissuade them.
It certainly begs the question: Where were the members of the editorial board when the rest of us journalists were learning the root causes of homelessness? What, are these people locked in the 1970s? Do they simply refuse to listen when public-health and social-service professionals try to tell them that “idle” people make up a very small portion of the population of homeless individuals, and that the streets are, for the most part, filled with people suffering from severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, or from and drug and alcohol addiction, or both addiction and mental illness?
I, for one, hope that the employees of the Union-Tribune who do have hearts, bleeding or otherwise, are making their opinions of this dangerous and mean-spirited editorial heard.