Saturday, March 7, 2015

Top reasons why homeless are shot by police

In September 2013, Jack Collins was in a public restroom, attempting to commit suicide with his knife.  A park worker saw this, and called 911.  A police officer came, commanded the man to get out of the bathroom.  He came out, dripping blood.  The officer commanded him to drop the knife.  He didn't do so, and so he was shot and killed.

Early March of this year, a homeless man from Cameroon, known on the street as "Africa", was on the street.  He was approached by two police officers, and he ran.  They tased him, had him on the ground, and then they shot him five times.  On June 23, 2014, Nicholas Davis from Portland, was shot and killed by the Portland police as he wielded a crowbar.  In March of 2014, two police officers shot and killed a homeless man wielding a knife in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  These officers have since been charged with murder.   

Police shootings of the homeless are frequent and happen in every major city of the U.S.  As homelessness increases, the frequency of these shootings increases.  Why do they happen?  Are they the fault of the homeless?  Or of the police?  Here is the general context of every shooting of the homeless.

1.       The homeless are generally considered lesser people
Dr. Susan Fiske, a sociologist who has done brain scans on Americans judging our social viewpoint of a variety of groups has determined that the homeless are generally seen as disgusting and offensive, showing a similar brain pattern as looking at a “garbage pile”.  This isn't a problem with a certain segment of our society but rather an assumption that underlies most interactions between the homeless and society at large. 

2.       Cities pass laws to eliminate the homeless
Since the homeless are seen as “garbage piles”, most cities respond to them as if they are a sanitation issue.  They hire people to get rid of their possessions, they prevent them from loitering in public spaces, they use their police force to push them out of the city.  They might even make it illegal to feed the homeless because cities don’t want to have their garbage piles grow.

3.       Neighbors call the police to get rid of the homeless
Housed citizens see the homeless as nuisances that should be moved out of their neighborhood, partly out of disgust and partly out of fear.  A homeless person might be walking down a neighborhood street, sleeping in a public park, or talking with a couple of his friends and a neighbor will call the police.  They might fear for their children, or they might assume that a homeless person is up to criminal activity and so the police are called.  The police may not want to deal with a homeless person, but if they are called, they will come. 

4.       The regular contacts between the homeless and police are negative
When the police are called to deal with a homeless person, they have to prepare themselves for the worst.  They don’t know if the person is in the middle of a criminal act, dangerous or crazy.  They are ready to handle whatever bad situation comes up.  The homeless person, for the most part, isn't doing anything apart from trying to live the best they can.  So when they are confronted by officers who assume the worst, they react to that assumption negatively.  This creates a continuing tension between officers and the homeless.  The homeless are seen as up to no good by police, and the police are seen as hostile forces that bark orders and give no respect.  Many homeless people have automatic animosity to the police because of so many negative, hostile contacts.

5.       The homeless live in public areas
When we all are asleep in our rooms, we feel secure and free from harm.  None of the homeless have that luxury, as they live in public areas, not protected by society at large.  Neighbors, fellow homeless, and the authorities all feel free to enter into tents or the private possessions of a homeless person.  When a homeless person is in their tent or car, they feel at “home” as much as they can.  But others don’t see it that way.  This means that they feel a greater need to protect themselves than those who have locks and four secure walls.

6.       The homeless carry knives as part of their survival gear
Knives are part of the basic gear of a homeless person, just as they would be for any person who is camping.  Knives are essential for establishing and maintaining a camp, as well as personal security.   If a homeless person has had many people steal their items or attack them for no reason, they are more likely to grab a knife on anyone who approaches them, especially when they are sleeping.

7.       The mentally ill require different treatment
There are perhaps 25 percent of the homeless who have been diagnosed with mental illness, and homelessness increases any eccentricities that a person may already have, due to the enormous stress of living on the street.  The police are almost never trained to deal with people who act in a manner which is abnormal, or exceedingly disrespectful.  A homeless person with anxiety might very well run from the police when they come, which is seen as a sign of guilt by some officers.  Or a person might talk crazy, even angrily, to the “voices” in her head, making her seem suspicious or even dangerous.

8.       The homeless have nothing to lose
After being accused, harassed, yelled at, having possessions stolen, their camps destroyed and no opportunities given for a better life, a homeless person might decide that they have nothing to lose.  If they get attacked or stolen from one more time, they will snap.  Since life has nothing for them, they feel no reason to toe the line.

All of this creates a context for the homeless to be shot and killed by police.  If a homeless person is sleeping in their tent, a neighbor calls the police to have the “vagrant” moved on.  The police come and roust the citizen out of his bed.  He has had enough of the harassment and theft from official channels, and so comes out with a knife, which is always kept with them.  An officer will command the person to throw down the knife, but they have nothing to lose.  So they will not release the thing that they need to survive, even if it is irrational.  If they are considering suicide or have some paranoia, they will see their knife as their last hope.  Eventually, unless the officer is trained in dealing with the mentally ill, the person will be shot, and likely killed.

This is not the fault of a single police officer, but a state of affairs our society is in because of how everyone treats the homeless.  The homeless are more and more getting backed into a corner, in which they have no options.  Back any mammal in a corner and if they feel attacked, they will fight back with whatever they have, even if the situation is hopeless.

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