Last week two homeless men were shot and killed while asleep in Atlanta, the city too busy to hate. A city that has made hatred for the poor a part of its new way of being. The ordinances against homeless people asking for money, running the homeless from the downtown area whenever a movie is being filmed, transporting them away to other cities during the Olympics. Along with this is the constant harassment of the homeless by police and forcing the Church of the Common Ground not to serve food along with the coffee they have at their bible studies in the park verify this fact.
These behaviors and the general attitude of disgust toward the homeless, who happen to be poor and mostly people of color, sends a strong message to people who are apt to allow evil to rule in their lives. That’s true for the person who is going around under the cover of darkness shooting homeless people while they sleep. If there is any truth to the notion of learning about the character of a people by visiting their prisons, perhaps one can learn a few things about a people from the way they treat the poor, the “least of these” as characterized by Jesus.
Atlanta and many other cities are not doing too well in their treatment of the folks at the bottom of the economic ladder. Though disgust for the poor did not begin in the 21st century, all generations should be ashamed of our behavior. In spite of our economic hard times of late, we are still amazingly rich. Clearly there are many among us who have suffered severely from the economic downturn, but many of us are continuing to live and maintain moderate economic balance in our lives.
We still have movies grossing millions of dollars in a weekend; we spent millions of dollars on Halloween a few weeks ago, and many folks were up before daybreak taking advantage of Black Friday sales. The economic belt tightening has affected us, but we continue to consume though it might mean other things go lacking or we are amassing debt.
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Nonetheless, those who cannot participate in the capitalist circus are considered to be less than those who do. We are basically a country that does not really like to have poor folks around.
Of course, we have not admitted it to ourselves, and we do things such as designing misguided welfare programs that are not intended to help people but mostly to keep them poor and without a sense of any power. Our best efforts to help poor people are undermined by the structures of racism and classism that helped to make them poor in the first place. When our initiatives fail to recognize and address these root causes, no substantial change can occur. When the poor stay poor and at times become even poorer, we blame them.
The day after Thanksgiving I helped serve the meal at the Open Door Community for those who are homeless and the anxiety that was exhibited by these sisters and brothers of ours about the murders that have occurred was palatable. For several days since, I have been trying to imagine what it would be like to live in such a vulnerable manner. From the safety of my warm apartment and locked doors, I do not have to be concerned about someone walking by and shooting me because of their hate-filled heart. It is very hard to imagine what it is like to live as a homeless person. Their days are spent trying to find welcoming space, a toilet, a drink of water, food or just a place to sit in peace for a short while.
Our hearts need to be opened wider to the poor. Everybody matters. No one is expendable. All of us are diminished when anyone is diminished.
This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at email@example.com.