When ‘To Protect and Serve’ Becomes ‘To Shame and Ridicule’

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NYC HomelessThe disparity between the “haves” and “have nots” is perhaps nowhere more striking than in New York City. One end of the economic spectrum is best symbolized by the array of new condominium skyscrapers reshaping the city’s skyline (top price, $95 million). Pan down 1,000 feet or so, and the economics shift just as precipitously. At street level, huddled in doorways or sleeping on park benches, are the city’s poorest of the poor. New York’s homeless population is at an all-time high, at around 59,000. New Yorkers’ reactions have ranged from concerned to outraged.

New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio has been the recipient of most of the ire over this issue, since homelessness spiked on his watch. But it is the recent actions of the police that have come under fire of late. In a bizarre attempt to draw attention to minor law infractions or signs of disorder (the so-called “broken window” theory of policing), police in New York posted hundreds of photographs of homeless people onto a Flickr account (since removed) titled “Peek-a-Boo.”

The New York Post seems to be the only news outlet that reacted positively to the police’s actions, calling the city’s homeless, many of whom are mentally ill, “vagrants” and “bums,” and intimating that their “quality of life crimes” were deserving of public ridicule. The rest of the sensible media recognized the police’s actions for what they were: an insensitive shaming that further ostracizes a marginalized class of people, and another misstep by police who are quickly gaining a reputation as bullies rather than protectors.

Photo by Flickr User Paolo Margori

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