Politicians, community, & spiritual leaders across the nation have been challenged by the issue.
Hawaii State Representative Tom Brower made headlines across the US in 2013 when he grew tired of the political process and took it upon himself to "pound" home his point of addressing homelessness in Hawaii. Where policy seemingly failed, Brower decided to take action, with a sledgehammer.
Rep. Brower reportedly began to take the shopping carts of homeless people (but not while they were pushing it). He then destroyed the carts with his sledgehammer. Sound a bit like it's something you'd read in a comic book?
Violent much you think? Illegal perhaps? Maybe but hey, he didn't leave all the remains behind and supposedly took a number of damaged carts to be recycled so at least there's some sustainability there, right?
Multiple stories broke and delved into such details as the Representative shared how he was at least compassionate enough not to disturb homeless people who slept at bus stops at night despite the "tough guy" stance he had adopted. Watch out when the sun rose though because if he happened upon a sleeping homeless person at a bus stop during the day, he'd say: "Get your ass moving."
The headlines continued to document his journey from sledgehammer swinger to thoughtful leader. Having "hammered" home his point (aka after getting some heat about the situation), Brower retired his sledgehammer though his passion to address homelessness remains.
Earlier this Summer, Brower was allegedly assaulted by a group of people at a homeless encampment in Kaka'ako. He was reportedly investigating a complaint that he had received, was beaten, and had his camera stolen.
Brower claims the assault was unprovoked, yet a pair of youth came forward, and reported that Brower was taking pictures of them, laughed at them and refused to stop taking photos when asked. The court of public opinion seemed to indicate that though violence is wrong, homelessness is an issue in Hawaii, and something is awry with Brower's approach.
Only the people who were there from the start truly know what transpired. I wasn't there on that day. I did however go to the encampment on July 15.
Some time ago, I began to set aside clothing with the intent of giving it to people in the encampment. Hawaii has been home my whole life and for generations on both sides of the family. It pains me to drive through, skateboard, or walk the area where this encampment is just two blocks from my own home, not due to fear but out of great sadness that The Aloha State has conditions this bad.
If we as a society can only be viewed through the lens of how we care for the least among us, I thought giving some clothes & other things to those in need could be a way to show Aloha.
Recalling the sledgehammer incident, I remember that it was alarming to me that an elected official seemed to think of himself above the law and do what he pleased. We're all human, we all make mistakes but really, walking the streets with a sledgehammer to address an ill that no civilization has been unable to avoid?
When Brower's name popped up in another episode with homeless people, a group in general with very little, I was skeptical of his charges so I thought giving items to that family involved in this whole thing was the place to start in creating something positive.
I reached out to coordinate this with a friend who had access to the family and we went on July 15 to give some school supplies and clothing to the family.
My friend and I weren't beaten or chased after we arrived. Rather we were left alone as we made our way to where the mother of one of the alleged attackers, Rose, stays. Two children walked up to say hello to her ("Hey Aunty!") and Rose took a few moments to talk with us and was very sweet.
I didn't go there to take anything from the people but I left with more than I gave. I was humbled at how peaceful it was, and it confirmed my sense that most, if not all people are trying to do the best they can with where they are at and what they have at their disposal to work with.
While taking pictures in public, as Brower claims, might be legal, is it right to go into a situation of disenfranchised people and take away one of the few remaining things they have, their human right to privacy? Last I heard, you needed parental consent to take pictures of minors as well but I haven't heard that said much.
While I don't doubt Brower thinks he's acting from a righteous place, I find it hard to believe that someone who was happy to be recorded (whilst wearing his Armani cap) destroying shopping carts (which came from somewhere and are the property of someone else) and discard the contents of homeless people (private property that could be all those people have left), then stop after receiving backlash, and who yells at homeless people sleeping on bus stops (but only during the daytime), is to believe that he was just a victim in all of this.
Brower has since filed charges, proclaims he has forgiven the attackers, and just wants to help. Yet it's a bit hard to question his intent in light of his approach. And while it's not against the law to be antagonistic, why, if someone sincerely wants to put this situation behind them, would he call the media, hold a press conference and announce he's pressing charges, in the same place where the incident occurred? Why not press charges in private and avoid the spotlight?
Maybe it's good he is filing charges so this can be investigated. Violence is certainly not right. But who literally & figuratively swung first? Obviously homelessness existed before Tom Brower was conceived and the media sensation we've since come to know and love nationally, was born. But let's stop for a moment and not assume the one who got beaten didn't start something that quickly escalated beyond.
It becomes much more plausible that these kids were trying to take care of themselves and their micro-community when this grown man, an elected official, who doesn't even believe in process of the system, and practiced a form of illegal vigilantism, showed up and created a disturbance.
Or maybe the kids are thugs. Upon meeting Rose, a woman with nothing but her family, I don't think that's the case, but that's just my opinion. You can Google and read what her comments to the media were about it. It's too sad for me to re-hash.
But really, who am I?
I'm nobody. Why should my opinion matter.
I'm not an elected official. I'm not Tom Brower but I have met Tom Brower. Is that a start?
Hmmm, I am also a former staff member at the Hawaii State Capitol from 2007-2009. Are there possibly things that I could share that I heard off record or saw behind closed doors that were quite alarming? Maybe, probably, most likely the answer is yes but no one would believe me.
Or maybe they would?
In a world where an elected official takes a sledgehammer to the streets, maybe it's not so far-fetched to think that a sitting elected official would tell a young person interested in getting into politics that s/he needed to look like the district's predominant ethnicity or get a significant other that looked like that in order to have a chance to win. But then again, it's 2015 and race is no longer an issue right?
Or maybe it's not so unbelievable that a sitting elected official would tell a number of staffers after hours that he wouldn't mind having 'sexual relations' in a crude fashion with another Representative's Office Manager while drinking behind closed doors. Nah, that's too far-fetched right? I mean, it's only in the movies that politicians sleep with their interns and young aides. Isn't it?
Eh, who am I kidding. If I went and disclosed any of that, along with names and dates, it'd be kind of like this Brower vs. the kids situation except I'm like the people coming forward way after the fact. And when people share info after the fact, against the powerful, nothing gets done right?
Well, unless a comedian out there will create a viral comedy bit. Alas, it seems as though no one would believe the truth anymore, unless it's funny, and in the very different case of Bill Cosby, well, it wasn't so funny was it? Imagine if people believed the talk or questioned further the intent of Cosby when his behavior was going off base before.
Oh well, who knows if anyone believes these kids or will give them a chance. What if Brower is being honest? Maybe it's a better use of my time to write a comedy, especially since the famous 'based on a true story' can be used.
What better way to talk about a politician, his war on homelessness, and his partner, the sledgehammer, while weaving in all other elements of political intrigue that could be true to life...
Hey, Hannibal Buress, where you at? I have a great pitch for you.
Representative Vigilante Strikes Back! Coming soon to a theatre near you.