Sadly, today my hopes that public transit would be a panacea for anti-social behavior were, once again, dashed. PT: not a sufficient condition for people to develop enough affinity for their fellow man to avoid being mean to beggers.
Today, as I left the metro a woman was asking for money for food. Not uncommon. Less common: she was accompanied by her 5 year old (? — I find it impossible to tell the age of children. My observations can’t get past: small, disproportionate), who had very large eyes. Then:
She asked, “Spare some money for food?” and the person behind me said, “No. But I will call Social Services to come pick up your child.”
“I’m going to call Social Services since you can’t feed your child.”
The woman paused, then walked to the elevator where we all enjoy an awkward ride up out of the station.
Now, I’m willing to admit that there’s some moral complexity with regards to the children of extremely poor folk. At what point should one give up their child for a “better” life? At what point should the government step in and “take” children away? Certainly food, shelter, and safety form a bright line that there’s probably consensus about. And it’s possible that my subway woman had crossed those lines, and she probably should have access to a social worker for assistance if nothing else.
However: I don’t think begging in and of itself should be grounds to take a child away. Entirely possible that said child had been fed and a bed for the night at a local church was lined up, but woman had not eaten. Or needed money for job interview clothes (my strong case). Or for beer (my weak case, but not actually an illegitimate purchase!). Moreover, hanging out in the subway asking for money: not particularly dangerous. So cursory look at the situation suggests hard-luck case to sympathize with, not vile child abuser to scorn.
But no: must call child protective services. Of course, given that SS does not have a rapid response guerrilla division, and I would only be able to direct SS to “go check out the Hollywood Metro,” and on top of it all the chances of me actually calling are about one in a million, this is all just posturing.
You see, I’m so annoyed that you, a poor person, would have the gall to ask me, ‘innocent’ bystander in your poverty, for money and thus make me feel guilt at my own tightfistedness that I will threaten to break up your family. That’s just how I roll. Asshole.
I feel like I should end my story by saying how I gave the women money/food to make this recitation serve as some sort of behavioral model. Or I could say that I didn’t do anything to help, admitting my own complicity, and by extension that of everyone who reads, given that we all participate in this classist society. But neither feels right. I’m not comfortable with my character as either holy or fallen.
Instead: a plea. I don’t have a solid opinion on the quantity and frequency of direct small-sum charity you should engage in. But sure as hell, harshing on beggars is fucked up. So don’t do it or I may have to punch you in the face.