I was thinking recently about something that happened when I stopped in a local fast food place to pick up some food for one of my unsheltered friends. While standing in line, an old black man who lives on the streets walked in – I’ll call him Deacon. Deacon is a regular in the area and it is well known that he has untreated mental health issues.
Deacon is known for wandering around, talking a lot about absolutely nothing; he doesn’t speak directly to someone unless he is spoken to. So I’m standing there waiting for my food and Deacon is standing nearby, talking loudly. A young construction worker type is seated at a table on the other side of the restaurant and suddenly yells, “Why don’t you get the fuck outta here, goddamned freak?”
Having been spoken to, Deacon looks at the guy and continues to talk, saying nothing discernible whatsoever. The construction worker continues to engage him, with escalating language.
“Fuck dude, I thought I told you to get the fuck outta here! Do I gotta drag your ass out the door? If I give you a fuckin’ dollar will you get outta my face before I kick your n****r ass?”
I was trying not to get involved, really I was. Then Testy McTestosterone threatened violence and used the N word in front of several black women behind the counter, who were becoming nervous.
IMPORTANT TO NOTE: There were 4 other patrons in the restaurant eating, all working class white men.
When the construction worker stood up, I turned my body to be between him and Deacon.
“Why don’t you just have a seat and finish your meal? This guy doesn’t know you and there is no issue yet.”
“He’s fuckin’ with me and I want him the fuck outta here.”
“He hasn’t done anything to anyone.” I held up my lanyard, flipped to my clergy badge.* “He’s with me.”
Construction guy stepped closer, and again escalated his language toward Deacon.
“If you touch him, I’m going to have to stop you. And I don’t want to go to jail or have to visit you in the hospital.”
“What the fuck is a preacher gonna do to me?”
“This preacher is a combat-trained veteran with PTSD. I work with people who have real problems every day, and I really don’t have time for this. But if you don’t leave this gentleman alone and go about your business, things are going to get complicated real fast.”
“I should fuck you up just for talking to me like that.”
At this point, the store manager, a black woman, speaks up from behind the counter. “So now you’re threatening an old homeless man AND a preacher. What kinda man does that make you? Will you please just go?”
Looking around and seeing everyone in the restaurant staring at him, he kicked his chair away and left the restaurant.
The lesson here isn’t what he did or what I did. The lesson is what 4 other able-bodied white men did. NOTHING. They sat in silence while all of this happened and did nothing at all.
“What kinda man does that make you?” Indeed.
Never forget that I love you, and that excludes no one.
*I am a registered member of the clergy because it protects the people with whom I work. Spiritual counseling is a protected class, meaning that I cannot be compelled to divulge information to law enforcement or in court.