My wife and I often state that there are no coincidences, only “Godincidences” in our lives. Monday was a prime example of that theory in action. I had plans on where to be at 1830, God had other plans.
Saint Paul, the city of my birth and residence, has a growing problem with violent, mentally ill, and intoxicated homeless people taking over the streets. I think I can get away with that statement given that I’ve spent more than a tad bit of time in ministry to the homeless over the last dozen years. Saint Paul, like a lot of liberal democrat cities has taken the approach that if we focus on the big crimes like overtime parking in business districts, bulbs in liquor store signs being 100 Watt versus 80, making sure that protesters get a fluffy pillow every night, and protecting those that block freeways we will have a place where every illegal immigrant that seeks sanctuary will feel comfortable.
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The second paragraph isn’t much of an exaggeration. Most of the downtown area, particularly the part closest to the main homeless shelter, has been thrown open with no enforcement (that I can see) of the laws regarding pooping on the sidewalk, and harassing people for money. The homeless have always been among us, but a new contingent have cropped up in the last year (predating Donald Trump, so don’t bother blaming him) and they are far more aggressive and violent than I’ve ever seen. Some of the “old-timers” are afraid as a result. They are preyed upon by the younger ones, and violence is very common.
Monday I was moving as fast as I could to get home and run an errand for my wife. When I got to the intersection where my bus arrives I saw a guy I have known for years get slung to the ground by a younger man. I moved as fast as I could to get there, having lost sight of them when they went behind a wall.
Rounding the corner, there it was: the younger man straddling the old guy, wailing on him with his fists. I don’t know about you, but that won’t stand in my universe. (Thank you, Mom, for the kind part of my heart. Thank you, Dad, for the instruction on dishing it out.) I used my very best command voice and ordered him off. He didn’t get off, but he did slow down on the punches. I reached down and pushed him off his victim. Now I’m the focus of this dude.
He’s high. No doubt about it. The glazed eyes, clenched fists and jaw, the aggressive body posture. I got in between him and his target and told him to move back. He’s not getting the cues until I explain, in my very best sailor talk, that he’s going to have bigger problems if he doesn’t stop right now. The standoff is in progress at this point.
Two things to point out here: not one person on the plaza came to my aid to put this jerk down. One guy moved behind the bad guy, but I wasn’t sure if he’d be any help. Furthermore, nobody called the cops. Not a cell phone in sight. No indications of help on the way. So I called 911 while backing this idiot off.
The second thing was Erin came to shield Robbie (the victim) from his attacker. This business woman got off a bus that had pulled up when she saw what was happening, ran over, and shielded Robbie with her own body, ordering the attacker to back away. This woman had more guts than anyone else on the plaza. (Later I found out that the bus driver did call for the police. But that doesn’t excuse the dozen or so people who didn’t help me (and Erin) from their behavior.)
Eventually the attacker left. I was on the horn with 911, and provided a description and direction of travel. He had told me that I was next. Sure enough, before the squads got there he had gone around the block and came back into view. Seeing me, he skirted the area, but didn’t leave. That led to his arrest a few minutes later when the police got there.
After a check by the ambulance, Robbie and Erin were taken to identify the suspect (but this isn’t “COPS” and I’m telling you the jerk is guilty without a trial). Once done with that, the story had a happy ending: Erin walked with Robbie to a nearby diner and bought him dinner. It was kind of sweet.
So, Saint Paul City Leaders, when are you going to address the issue with the dozens of aggressive pan-handling, violent, intoxicated, mentally ill people roaming the public spaces in this city? You need cops downtown all the time. You need foot patrols and motor units in the core of downtown. I bear no ill toward the officers that responded, but that it took that long for a responding unit is unacceptable. More cops, more patrols, more arrests.
Let’s get real, Saint Paul: your pie-in-the-sky development plans are all for naught if people are afraid to be downtown after five in the afternoon. We’re at that point.
Thanks, Erin. You were the bomb. Next time you see me down at the bus stop, say hi. Send me a message in the comments, I’d love to have a cup of coffee with you.
The rest of you? Get involved. Call the police when that stuff kicks off, and step in to defend the helpless. If you cower, and just get on your bus, you have failed the rest of humanity. “But I wasn’t involved.” True. Neither was I. And the next time I might not be there to help when it is you. Wouldn’t you want others to come to your aid?
If you want to see time stretch to infinity, find yourself on the ground with some maniac beating your head against the cobblestones. Robbie can attest to what that was like on Monday. I stopped it. Erin stopped it. If not me, who? If not now, when?
My point is that things are out of control in Saint Paul, and if we don’t defend ourselves and each other terrible things will continue to happen. Remember the old saying, “When you need a cop right now, there’s one just minutes away.” As a former cop I can vouch for that. They react. But increasing their presence downtown will help more than a little.
Saint Paul, I love you. But you’re going to hell at this point. Turn it around.
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