April 2, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 14

Feature

A plea for compassion

By Timothy Harris / Executive Director

(Opinion) A rally to protest alleged beating of homeless men sends out a message of unity

More than 150 people attended, including members and supporters of the Seattle Fire Department (SFD). Two off-duty firefighters allegedly assaulted homeless men in Occidental Park after attending a Sounders game.

Photo by Alex Garland / Contributing Photographer

Attendees hold hands in a circle while performing a Native American round dance at the end of the Stand for Compassion rally.

Photo by Alex Garland / Contributing Photographer

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Late afternoon, on Saturday, March 15, three Sounders fans came upon a homeless man sleeping at the Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Pioneer Square, according to the Seattle Police Department. One screamed at the homeless man and kicked his food; another punched and stomped on the man who was lying on the ground, according to the incident report.

The group, later identified by SPD as two off-duty firefighters and a friend, also attacked other people who attempted to intervene, in one case taking a wooden cane from a man and striking him in the head and arms, the report says.

Seattle quickly moved on. After a day or two of initial media outrage, news of the Occidental Park beatings was displaced by other local tragedies. Terrible things happen and are often quickly forgotten.

A popular English professor is knifed to death in Pioneer Square by a homeless man who hears voices but cannot access the services he needs. A disabled fisherman dies of exposure underneath the Ballard Bridge. Volunteers find 3,123 homeless people outside in King County in the wee hours of a late January morning after the shelters are filled.

Each of these reveals the awful violence bred by the systemic neglect of the very poor.

But this particular act of brutality was of a different, more personal, sort. When direct hate — legitimated by widespread public scorn — rears its ugly head, a community response is required.

And so, we worked with partners from human services, the faith community, the City of Seattle and the business community to organize Stand for Compassion, a call for renewed commitment to real solutions to homelessness.

Necessary words were said — by activists such as myself, the head of the Church Council and city leaders like the Seattle Fire Chief Gregory Dean and Mayor Ed Murray — but Francis, a homeless man who had tried to intervene in the alleged assault and gained two black eyes in the process, perhaps said it best.

“I had to act. That was my family,” he said.

If the rest of us can extend our sense of community to include people like him and those he tried to protect and take action in the ways that we can, we’ll be on our way to the more just world that we all deserve.

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