This Thing Called Courage

Friday, July 11, 2008

And Who Is My Brother?

This is tragic and sad. I think the money quote is at the end, beginning with "There was a time..." Alas, that time is not now. I was down in Harvard Square the other day, and a homeless man was lying on the sidewalk, face-down. A Harvard student chatting on the cell phone stepped over him and kept going, not even seeing him. It's like our homeless are pigeons-- an unpleasant and unsightly urban archetype. But there was a time when there were very few homeless in America. And then Governor Reagan of California thought it would be a great idea to empty that state's mental hospitals, and cast the residents out onto the street. That budget-cutting idea was brought to a national level once he became president.

Since then a myriad of factors have contributed to the growing number of homless, not the least of which has been twenty years of Republican administrations....

But this below is really too much. From today's Boston Globe:

Killing of homeless man leaves questions

By Milton J. Valencia, Globe Staff July 11, 2008

There are no roadside memorials for Timothy Finch, no flowers, cards or R.I.P. signs.
The homeless man, a 40-year-old US Army veteran, was killed in broad daylight on the Fourth of July, one of the city's busiest holidays, near Faneuil Hall Marketplace, one of its biggest tourist destinations.
Yet Finch's slaying was obscured by the same shadow of anonymity that shrouded his life. Police said that his gruesome beating was witnessed by tourists and other passersby who dismissed it as a run-of-the-mill scuffle between homeless men and that people walked by as he lay dying, thinking he was merely slumped on the sidewalk. One of the initial calls to police was for a drunk man lying on the ground, bleeding.
Soon after the killing, the scene was cleared, and Fourth of July festivities resumed. And in the days after, it was business as usual at Faneuil Hall, with little reminder that a man had recently been killed there.
"You have to think, 'How many people are walking by here,' " said Lee Diamond, a 20-year-old from Arlington who frequents the corner of Union and North streets, a hangout where the homeless, teenagers, and tourists mix each day. And still he knew nothing of the killing.
Diamond said he has seen homeless people in the area before, even fighting, but he doesn't pay attention. He doesn't believe anyone else does, either.
"There's a good amount of them, but it's like, 'Don't ask, don't tell,' " he said. "Most people walking by wouldn't stop and look. You'd just keep walking."
Advocates for the homeless said that passersby often filter out sights of the homeless and dismiss what would otherwise be alarming scenes, of people lying on the street or fighting.
"There are far too many homeless people who get stepped over," said Karen LaFrazia, executive director of St. Francis House, a local homeless shelter. "How many times has one of us seen somebody passed out on the street, or just up against a wall, and we just walked by."
Now police are searching for such people who may have clues about what happened to Finch. Investigators are reviewing footage from security cameras in the area. Some witnesses have spoken with detectives, but police hope to get more information from what could be hundreds of witnesses who were near the Holocaust Memorial just before noon.
"We believe there were some individuals in the area, tourists in the area, who may have seen the assault take place and not know what they were witnessing," said Elaine Driscoll, a spokeswoman for the Boston Police Department. "Every homicide is of great concern to us, but certainly when one occurs in broad daylight we find it troubling."
No arrests have been made, but police said after the killing that they were looking for an assailant described as a black male, 6 feet 2 inches tall, wearing a red shirt and carrying a white bag.
One witness said she saw four men beating Finch, one of them with a sack stuffed with some type of solid object. Driscoll said police are investigating whether Finch had a prior dispute with other homeless men that may have led to the attack.
"Certainly, the incident is concerning to us, and we hope to find the person responsible for it very soon," Driscoll said.
Several advocates who work with the homeless said they did not know Finch, a veteran with an honorable discharge. He had registered at homeless shelters years ago, and in 2001 he was enrolled in a program at the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans, according to the shelter. He returned there in 2005 for emergency overnight shelter.
But he had not returned since, nor had he stayed at other area shelters contacted by the Globe, leaving advocates to wonder if he led a life wandering on city streets.
Finch's death has alarmed some advocates for the homeless, including Joe Finn, executive director and president of the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance.
"We're just too used to people lying on the streets at this point," he said, adding that more needs to be done to stem the root cause of homelessness. "There was a day that if you had someone walking down a busy street, acting out and talking to themselves, people would find that not normal, and try to report that."
Milton J. Valencia can be reached at


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