Monday, August 22, 2016

Before You Speak

At Aberdeen’s city council meeting on June 29, 2016, a group of business owners issued a “vote of no confidence” in the mayor and city council members. Their complaint: homeless people. There was the litany of usual complaints: people sleeping in doorways, business owners feeling unsafe, the situation being bad for business.

Last year, a city official publically called people who were homeless a “public nuisance” and a business owner speaking in a public meeting said he wished “druggies would all just die.” Another property owner privately threatened to shoot people camping on his property and “throw them in the river.”

Facebook is usually full of unkind and sometimes very nasty comments on local sites. Here are a few I found from over the past few years:

“They [hotel owners] don't appreciate the riff riff any more than the Court of Public Opinion.”

“How about we send the homeless people to Olympia or Tacoma or seattle, where they have more possibilities for rehab and jobs, why are they our responsibility, just sayin.”

“they need to do something. These people have taken over whole neighborhoods. They harass people, threaten them, steal from them, and throw trash/drug par. all over the place”

“Load them up on a bus and take them on that new highway to "no where", a trip to Wynochee Dam. Last stop, kick off by gun point if need be. leave them 2-2 liters of Mountain Dew and a pack of Paul Malls. then leave, we'll see how many of them know how to read signs....let the Feds take care of them or the wolves.....”

Everyone seems to think it is perfectly ok to call people “tweakers,” “druggies,” “dope fiends,” and worse.

No one seems to notice that the people that are targeted in these comments are, for the most part, sons and daughters of the harbor. That many of the people who find themselves homeless now once helped build the community. Or even that they are simply fellow human beings struggling to survive with the rest of us.

“The Court of Public Opinion” in this small town on the edge of the state has grown tired, jaded, and cruel.

If these were all just people blowing hot air, maybe I’d think better of writing this post. But, there is a problem.

We seem to have forgotten that words have consequences. Real, and sometimes dire, consequences.

Because of words like these—from the mouths of public officials, respected community members, and just your average Joe blowing steam on facebook--people on the street are continually targeted.

Last week, a few local kids decided to go “bum bashing” in the middle of the night. Among others, they terrorized a woman sleeping alone in a tent, calling her cruel names, kicking her little puppy, and breaking her tent down.

While tent city has been in Hoquiam, they have had rocks thrown at them and trucks drive up and shout obscenities and threats. A small vigilante group has stalked women walking alone at night and generally harassed people. 

Last year, Public Health declined to offer naloxone (a drug that reverses the effect of opiate overdose) to the public because they were too afraid of public backlash, even though the rate of opiate overdose in this county is twice the rate of the state. So, we as a community decided we would rather let our young people die than stir the pot.

So, when I read all these nasty comments, I think of the terror, the pain, the death that real people in our community face because "the Court of Public Opinion" calls them riff raff, thinks of them as non human, and sometimes openly calls for their death. Next time, before you speak, know that people’s lives hang in the balance. And maybe remember words spoken a few thousand years ago; "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Matthew 7:2).

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