Politics Magazine

It’s Not Always “Us Against Them”

Posted on the 29 November 2012 by Adask

It’s Not Always “Us Against Them”The story is pretty simple.  A New York cop sees a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk in freezing weather.  The homeless man has no shoes.  The cop goes into the nearby shoe store and buys a pair of boots and some socks with his own money.  A tourist passing by snaps a photo of the cop giving the boots and socks to the homeless guy.  The photo goes viral.

It’s not always “us against them”.  Sometimes, they are us.  And sometimes we are them.

We see so many videos of police abuse that we start thinking that all cops are fascist thugs.  The result can be a polarization that prevents the police from really seeing us, and prevents us from really seeing the police.  That polarization is dangerous to both “sides”.

I think it’s good for all of us to see the “humanity” that sometimes exists among our adversaries.  But it’s not just good if we see some “humanity” among the police.  It’s good if the police see evidence of humanity among themselves.  The officer in this video doesn’t merely remind you and me of his humanity.  He reminds his fellow officers of their humanity.  He may have even reminded himself of his own humanity.

That’s all good.

I suspect that all the internet videos of police abuse and violence don’t merely teach us that the cops are thugs–they may also teach the cops that they can and should be thugs.  If so, it should follow that a video like the one below not only teaches us that cops can be decent, it also shows the cops that it’s not necessary to be thugs; that it’s OK to be decent and compassionate.

video       less than 1 minute


Here’s a longer article on the “moment”:



P.S.  (121130)  And here’s a later video of the police officer and the woman who photographed him being interviewed on the Today Show:


Some people are concerned that this photograph et al were a “setup” intended for PR purposes.  It looks legit to me.

In fact, the photo–all by itself–isn’t that good.  By itself, the photo doesn’t tell us if the temperature is cold or mild.  It doesn’t tell us whether the police officer is trying help the homeless guy or making him put the socks and boots he already owned back on and get up off the street and find another place to sit out of public view.  We are told that the officer is giving socks and boots to the homeless man, but the photo doesn’t show the officer actually presenting the boots and socks to the homeless man.

If this was a “setup,” I’d expect to see a better and more contrived photo.  In fact, if it was a setup, I’d expect to see a video of the whole event–complete with the homeless man’s animated facial and verbal reactions.  Because the photo is, by itself, fairly inconclusive, I conclude that the photo is uncontrived.

And finally, even if it was a setup, the internet is something of a mystery.  I don’t think anyone knows how to make anything “go viral”.  It might be possible to create this scene as a PR stunt, but there’s no way that doing so would guarantee that the stunt would “go viral”.

The only way this photo makes much sense is if it is just exactly what it appears to be:  evidence of a surprising act of kindness and compassion from one of “them” to one of “us”.

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