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Homeless people hope that hero NYPD officer's behavior goes viral, too
The now-famous picture of NYPD Officer Lawrence DePrimo kneeling before a shoeless homeless man while giving him a pair of all-weather boots he bought for him drew 367,000 "likes" and 108,000 shares on the NYPD's Facebook account by Thursday afternoon.
Homeless people also acclaim DePrimo's compassion, but hope that his behavior -- not just his photo -- goes viral.
"That guy's one in a million. Normally, (police) treat you like you just don't count -- or like you're a criminal," said Leroy Williams, 40, who resides in a Jamaica shelter with his fiancé and 9-month old daughter. Homeless people are often harassed and arrested by the police on flimsy pretexts, complained Williams, recounting his own recent arrest in a complicated fare beating incident. He said his innocence could have been easily established if officers had only checked his Metro card as he implored them to, but the officer, he said, refused. “I went to Rikers and everything,” he sighed.
Shateasha Byrd, 38, was intrigued by the date of the photo -- which was taken by an Arizona tourist on Nov. 14. After the region's epic Oct. 29 storm, the police "really cut down," on harassing homeless people, Byrd said.
She theorized the compassion springs from Superstorm Sandy reminding police that adverse events could propel anyone (including their own family members) into the ranks of NYC's 50,000 homeless people. "It takes a tragedy for people to change their hearts" she said. Cops are individuals just like homeless people, said Byrd, but DePrimo, she gushed, "is an angel cop."
Vernon, 48, who declined to give his last name, said he knew the homeless man in the photo from the streets, though not his name. ("That guy doesn't wear shoes!"). DePrimo is not unique, said Vernon, noting there is a cadre of Midtown South cops who routinely "take care" of a disturbed homeless man by giving him clothes and food and treating him kindly.
But the reason the image of DePrimo resonates so deeply is because it exhibits a member of the NYPD "understanding," the stress and difficulties homeless people face that often missing from interactions with cops, said Vernon.
“I was just locked up yesterday,” Vernon recounted wearily. Vernon acknowledged the officers had cause (“I had three open container warrants – I knew it would happen eventually”). But he was extremely upset to find that his methadone card, his Positive Health Project syringe and needle exchange card (“they hate those programs”) and welfare papers were all missing when his personal effects were returned.
“All the charges against me were dismissed, but they shouldn’t have thrown none of my papers away,” Vernon complained. “They’re important to my health! I couldn’t get my methadone this morning until I got a new card. I lost my bed (in a shelter) yesterday because I was in the court system.” Another time, an officer lied to pin “aggressive panhandling” charges on him when he was quietly sitting on a stand pipe with a cup, continued Vernon. The shoeless panhandler was lucky indeed to find a cop who helped him instead of arrested him, said Vernon.
DePrimo's act of kindness for a homeless man deserves praise, said Vernon. But the police as a whole "shouldn't just be good to just one of us: They need to be good to us all," he said.
The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.