The video of a bedraggled homeless man sitting on the cold concrete, his blistered feet exposed to the night time elements, should be nothing new to anyone who has spent even a moment in an urban environment. However, when a young New York City police officer approached and offered the unfortunate man a new pair of boots, the cell phone video went viral.
According to one article (The Blaze 11/29), the video taken by an Arizona tourist, Jennifer Foster, has been viewed over 1.6 million times. Just as significant, NYPD Officer Lawrence DePrimo’s random act of kindness towards a man down on his luck has been “liked” and “shared” on social media at a disproportionately high rate.
As an iconic image, it is timeless. As a social phenomenon taking place during the holiday season, it is timely.
I suppose what caught my attention about this story, which I first noticed on the nightly national news, was the media’s tone of astonishment at Officer DePrimo’s act.
I’ll admit it- I was disappointed at the reactions of tens of thousands of people, many of whom seemed amazed that a cop was capable of such compassion. Hit him with a nightstick, maybe, but buy him a pair of shoes? Naw.
Yet that cynical take is less important than the lasting impression this image conveys. Honestly,, Officer DePrimo’s actions were exceptionally kind. The poignant moment would have escaped our attention if Foster had not decided to videotape the incident. Perhaps no one would have believed it happened.
In fact, believe it or not, police officers perform random acts of kindness every day.
In abandoned lots where homeless people live under tarps, in hidden alcoves where drug addicts struggle through withdrawal, in flea-ridden homes where abused kids go to bed hungry, police officers have done incredible, selfless things. I know, because countless times I have witnessed cops, many on tight budgets with their own kids at home, open up their wallets and pay for food, shelter, toys and more.
In this new era, where public money and charitable organizations struggle to provide for the neediest among us, those at risk must have compassionate, caring police officers. No other profession outside of law enforcement has such a direct connection to the truly unfortunate, impoverished people who drift through the world of the streets. As a result, police officers are in the best position to make a positive impact in their lives and in our community.
Many officers use this interaction as opportunities to reach out individually, or to volunteer their free time to good causes, such as homeless shelters, soup kitchens or the Tacoma Police Guild’s wonderful Shop With a Cop program (I’ve included the link if you’re inclined to donate).
“To serve and protect” is not just some trite phrase, nor meaningless cliche. It is the reason most cops take up the profession of law enforcement.
And showing compassion is part of the job.