Nothing says intolerance these days like Americans do. Colorado is no exception.
In the land of “we the people” vs “no, we the people,” hating on each other is the only bi-partisan pastime we appear to have left.
There was no avoiding the hate this week after Sentinel Colorado reporter Max Levy lobbed a story into the metaverse about Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman’s promise-threat to resurrect his proposal to ban homeless people from camping on public property.
Like almost everything these days, readers lined up on two sides of the proposition.
Coffman’s idea is to send the cops after a bunch of cold, scavenging, lost, often addicted or mentally ill people. Unlike many of us, they don’t worry about traffic jams to the ski areas or the ridiculous price of Louis Vuitton’s Neverfull MM Monogram bag. I’d tell you what those cost, but if you have to ask…
As if he were waiting for the story, a Sentinel reader of the homeless camping ban story jumped in with,”Thank you, Mayor. Keep the drug addicts out of our city. The Mayor and I know that a majority of the homeless on the streets are heroin or meth addicts. The Mayor knows because he investigated the situation and I know because I’ve investigated, likewise, in my own manner. Non-addicts find a way to shelters and off the streets, heroin addicts do just the opposite, unless it’s freezing cold.”
I won’t jump back into Coffman’s ill-fated attempt to masquerade as a homeless person a year ago, nor what this dear reader’s investigation entailed.
I will, however, repeat that every credible expert, and even a brief conversation with people who are homeless, make it unequivocal that their plight, and that of thousands of people like them in the region, is complicated.
The newsroom phone and email boxes are filled with comments like Coffman’s ally. They all have one thing in common for sure. These critics of doing anything but chasing homeless people away rarely call them “people.”
Most insist that those suffering in tents sagging under the snow brought their misery onto themselves.
They didn’t work hard enough, or at all. They spent their rent money on beer or birthday and Christmas presents for their kids they couldn’t afford, both the kids and the presents. They started smoking meth or heroin, knowing damn well how dangerous it is, and now they’re suffering the consequences of their predictable addiction.
In short, “they” got what “they” had coming to them.
It’s sad, the most sympathetic of these critics say, but it’s “their” problem. “They” need to keep it to themselves and not inflict their bad luck, bad habits or bad choices on the rest of “us,” who keep sucking it up like we’re supposed to.
For sure, there are other people, probably not the majority, who look past the mistakes that some homeless people made. Some better understand the complicated fate bestowed or imposed on many of these tented denizens and remember that despite their crisis, “they” are people.
Unimpressed, others say, rules are rules. Don’t make your personal problem a community one.
It’s so seriously unfunny, however, that these same people, in the middle of the pandemic, demand the very same sympathy that they deny homeless people.
They demand the right to choose behavior far more dangerous to themselves and all of us than hanging in a tent along Parker Road.
These are people who refuse to vaccinate against the coronavirus and then go even further, refusing to wear masks or stay out of public places, inflicting their woe on everyone. Too often, it’s with deadly consequences.
Like the nascent drug addict or drunk who believes they can quit any time they want, the budding anti-vaxxer believes it can’t or won’t happen to them, even knowing full well it can. These days it almost certainly will.
The worldwide and inarguable message to vaccinate or face the consequences has been overwhelming and ubiquitous.
But these vaccine-denying people take their poor and dangerous choices to the grocery store, to the cinema, the gym or the neighborhood bar.
They try, but cannot deny the fact that in ICUs and hospital wards across the state, about 75% of the people gravely ill, gasping for air and overwhelming our hospital system are the once-mighty anti-vaxxers, who impose their poor and dangerous choices on the rest of us.
Sound familiar? So does the response from those who toe the line on getting their vaccines and wearing masks in public.
I can’t remember the last time I sat through a press conference with state or local health officials where the topic of what to do about “them” doesn’t come up. “Them” are the anti-vaxxers stoking the pandemic and pushing our health care and hospital systems to the brink of collapse.
The constant cry from those who follow the rules, who took the poke in the arm, who wear their masks and avoid situations that almost certainly will bring on a case of the ‘rona, is, “why do we tolerate anti-vaxxers?”
Someone regularly asks whether hospital beds and most medical services shouldn’t be reserved for those who have been vaccinated. Why give lifesaving medicines to people who won’t vaccinate while those who helped protect themselves and the herd get sick anyway and languish for therapeutics now in short supply?
Many people who find it easy to understand the complexity and anguish of homeless people have no tolerance for those who, for whatever reason, make their personal vaccine problem everyone’s problem.
Too often, we forget that no matter how aggravating and outright dangerous people are everywhere, they’re people.
It doesn’t mean they should be exempt from the rules we want and need, which living in a community requires. Keeping people who won’t vaccinate from joining the herd in public places makes just as much sense as keeping people without homes from taking over public squares, letting their drug and alcohol addictions wash over everyone.
Doing the right thing, however, starts with acknowledging that we’re talking about troubled people, not just troubles.