People who are experiencing homelessness are often treated with disrespect and disregard for their humanity. It is vital to the preservation of basic human kindness and decency that we all treat each other with respect and compassion. A recent incident in Sarasota, Florida serves as a good reminder that society still has a long way to go before perfecting the art of human interaction. On July 18, 2015, Sarasota police officer Andrew Halpin booked Randy Miller, a man experiencing homelessness, into the Sarasota County jail on charges of trespassing. Trespassing and vagrancy ordinances are unjust measures for punishing and criminalizing homelessness in the United States. They are a poor excuse for justice (and very expensive for taxpayers), but this incident’s cruelty went beyond the type of charges filed against Miller. Officer Halpin threw peanuts at Miller as if he was an animal, creating a dehumanizing and probably a very humiliating experience for Miller.
In an article published on July 28, 2015, reporter Lee Williams of the Sarasota Herald Tribune reported on the incident:
“…the video — which is being seen around the world — of a Sarasota Police officer tossing peanuts at homeless prisoner like an animal in a zoo…
As the homeless man was being booked into the Sarasota County jail, Halpin tossed peanuts into Randy Miller’s mouth, whom he had arrested for trespass.
Miller, intoxicated and handcuffed, was unable to catch them with his mouth. Several fell to the ground.
Minutes later, Miller slumped out of his seat and began eating the peanuts off the booking room floor. Halpin kicked them with his boot toward Miller so he could better reach them on the floor.
A source familiar with Miller’s July 18 arrest says Halpin was giving the homeless man “dog commands” during the incident.
Halpin was suspended after news of the story broke. The incident is being investigated by the department’s internal affairs unit.
Miller, meanwhile, was released from custody Tuesday morning, after spending 10 days in jail.”
This is an example of an unacceptable but not uncommon practice. People who are experiencing homelessness are frequently treated as less than human and everyone in society is responsible for that fact. We all need to do better. People who are experiencing homelessness are PEOPLE first and foremost, their lack of housing, their appearance and hygiene, and their class cannot define them and should not affect how society treats them.