Further, I'm sure there are those out there talking about “what a bunch of animals these people are,” I've already heard words to that effect. And to be sure, the some of the stories of violence have been horrific (How can a rape happen in the midst of the Superdome without someone knowing about it and stopping it?!)
And it is pretty easily for some, for me, to cast blame on “these monsters.”
But we must remember that there are no such things as monsters. These are people. People in a terrible situation. People, perhaps, who've not learned to be a responsible part of society, but people nonetheless.
Perhaps they're people like some of my friends with mental illnesses. Some of my friends raised poorly in poverty. I'd like to offer a couple composite descriptions of some of my friends and ask for some good thoughts.
Gus is 45 years old and has no job. He has mental issues that have led to his being fired from every job he's had. He's had violent outbursts that are part of his psychoses that have led him to being barred from seeing his family.
In good times, Gus lives in an apartment paid for by the state. Lonely and angry but seemingly unable to do anything productive with his life for long because of his issues. In bad times, Gus is on the street and off his meds. To look at Gus, he seems healthy and capable of working (and he is physically healthy and capable of working).
Yet Gus' life is a spiral of homelessness and living with government help.
Samantha is a 22 year old mother of four. Except, her children don't live with her. They were taken away because she was an unfit mother. Samantha is expecting another child in a couple of months.
As she's living in a tent on the river (where she was raped earlier in the year, leading to this pregnancy), she will likely lose custody of this child soon after she's born.
Samantha ended up on the streets after running away from home at the age of 15. Her mother's boyfriend had raped Samantha, leading to her first pregnancy. Samantha's mother's story was much like Samantha's.
With little education and a very difficult childhood, Samantha doesn't know very well how to take care of herself, get a job and hold it, tend an apartment or do much that we take for granted.
Gus and Samantha are the types that conservatives love to hate. “Worthless! Dangerous! Need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps like I did!”
And yet, Gus and Samantha just can't pull “normalcy” off. Or at least, they haven't yet.
So tell me, what do we do with Gus? With Samantha?
And I'll tell you right now, I'm not writing this essay so that my conservative friends can deride my friends as “human waste who should just be sent to jail to rot,” so don't bother writing that sort of response.
I'm serious. What do we do with people who've not learned how to make it in our society?
My family is a part of a church that really tries to help our friends in dire straits, but even with the support of a community of wonderful people like those at church, it's not easy. We lose some of them and are of limited help to most of the others.
It's almost as if they need to be adopted as adults by someone or some community with time to work with them indepth, but it's hard to find someone willing to take on that kind of challenge. (And, of course, I know one of the bigger answers is to get help to them when they're young – to tighten our societal safety net – would be the wise, compassionate and fiscally responsible thing to do. But that's a different essay.)
As we raise our anger at those misbehaving in Louisiana and grieve over those in our own lives we are unable to help, I'm just wondering – in those hard cases – what do we do?