A N.Y. Cop's Good Intentions, Complicated Results | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

A N.Y. Cop's Good Intentions, Complicated Results

Play associated audio

When news organizations, including ours, told of New York Police Officer Lawrence DePrimo buying boots for a barefoot man on the streets of Times Square one cold night last month, it seemed an irresistible holiday story: A kindly cop in a hard city helps a bedraggled man walking with blistered feet over some of the richest streets in the world.

The nameless, shoeless man became the best-known street person in America — just long enough to be recognized walking along the Upper West Side, where a New York Times reporter found him.

The man's name is Jeffrey Hillman. He turns out to be a 54-year-old veteran who is once again barefoot, telling the Times, "Those shoes are hidden. They are worth a lot of money. I could lose my life."

He had kind words for Officer DePrimo, saying, "I wish there were more people like him in the world."

But like a lot of New Yorkers, Jeffrey Hillman also kvetched.

"I was put on YouTube, I was put on everything without permission. What do I get?" he asked. "I want a piece of the pie."

In a week, Jeffrey Hillman went from being anonymous and overlooked to a public figure whose life was dissected as if he were running for office.

Just as we were writing stories to say life on the street is so fraught with risk that a homeless man cannot safely walk them in new shoes, the New York Daily News discovered that Mr. Hillman is not homeless. He has an apartment in the Bronx paid for by a federal program.

Even so, he has received Department of Homeless services since 2009, although Commissioner Seth Diamond told USA Today that "doesn't mean our work is done with him. He is not dressed for the weather, he is not engaged in a healthy lifestyle, and he is not leading a productive life." Mr. Diamond suggested mental health and substance abuse might be at work, too.

I don't like to think that because Jeffrey Hillman turns out to be less needy and more complicated than he appeared to be in a tourist's video, Officer DePrimo's kindness now looks useless — or foolish. He saw a cold, hurting man and helped him on the spot. He didn't tell him, "Don't worry, sir, I contribute to charities and support government programs that will help a lot of people who suffer from a social pathology similar to yours." He bought the man a pair of shoes.

Part of what makes an act of giving truly kind is that we recognize ourselves in those who need help, and know, but for a few zigs, zags and accidents, that could be us.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

WAMU 88.5

Art Beat With Lauren Landau, Oct. 1

Music from West Africa and photography from South East Asia come to the D.C. area.

NPR

From Kale To Pale Ale, A Love Of Bitter May Be In Your Genes

Researchers have found a gene that affects how strongly you experience bitter flavors. And those who aren't as sensitive eat about 200 more servings of vegetables per year.
NPR

Obama Sidesteps Midterm Campaigning As Approval Ratings Slump

The president's job approval rating is somewhere in the low 40s. That means there are a lot of places where his presence would hurt more than it helps.
NPR

Facebook Apologizes For Name Policy That Affected LGBT Community

The social networking site will not change its requirement for people to use "real" names on their profiles, but it will adjust how alleged violations are reported and enforced.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.