Yesterday I witnessed one of the most ludicrous abuses of power I have ever seen first hand. I had just finished work and headed to the Murdoch train station to head to West Perth for a meeting for CLiCK Inc WA. The train arrived and I jumped on to begin my journey, while perusing for a seat I walked past an elderly gentleman who was surrounded by numerous bags, one containing a very old and dirty pillow and blanket. The man has long silver unkempt hair tarnished from the harshness of sleeping on the streets.
Now I have a soft spot for the homeless, not many people know this but I spent 8 months sleeping on the street when I was 16. It is a hard and unjust life, it is especially harder to see people constantly judge those who have lost everything. A lot can be said about those who look down on those who need help, I want you to all know that each time I hear such judgements a piece of me dies, I can not describe the amount of discomfort it causes me. I honestly hope those people who are so quick to judge the helpless never have to experience the hardship of no shelter and no food.
The gentleman spoke quietly and had meek mannerisms, he was being questioned by two transit guards for not having a ticket. Both guards were Caucasian, one male and one female. I chose to sit close by so I could observe what would happen, I’m glad I made that choice. I regret now not taking out my phone and recording what transpired, it only occurred to me after I could no longer witness what was going on. However, I have decided to do the next best thing and write about it.
Empathy in any profession can go a long way, being able to imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes is a gift to humanity. I am of the belief the two guards were either socio-paths, or it is a requirement of the job to leave your empathy at the door. Clearly the bloke was homeless, even if you disregard that he was carrying all of his possessions with him, it was etched on his face. Presumably at most the Gentleman would have cost the government just over $3.00, given that he would probably qualify for a concession, and that is assuming he used a day rider.
The guards requested several times for a ticket. The man’s responses were too quiet to hear, however his body language said it all, he was looking to the floor, arms folded loosely on his lap while he was leaning forward slightly and his shoulders were rolled. He looked deeply ashamed with what was happening. The male transit guard then got out his infringement booklet and asked the gentleman for his name. Following this, the same transit guard asked him his address. As he did this you could see the look of surprise on the other passenger’s faces, it was an absolute pathetic question, one that was just used to humiliate and escalate the situation.
By this stage the train had left left Bull Creek Station and the female guard radioed in that they will need assistance, it was clear this was going to get out of hand. The terminology that was used disturbed me deeply “we have a gentleman we need to move on”. Move on? Move on to where? Where is he suppose to move on to? Somewhere out of sight? Obviously the thought processes of authority in this City needs to undergo some severe (re)education. Didn’t it occur to them that the reason he was on the train in the first place was to “move on”?
We reached Canning Bridge and two more officers boarded the train, four guards were now surrounding this man. Three male and one female guard now surrounded this seated man, the train pulled away from Canning Bridge. The officers were now talking quietly to each other and looking down at the gentleman. The train made the short journey to The Esplanade, as the train was approaching the station one of the male guards barked “get up” to the elderly man. The man grabbed his belonging and was escorted off the train.
Now I want to ask you all to think of this situation, replace the four guards with four civilians. How would we describe four civilians questioning a homeless man about where he lived? It would be classed as harassment, so why is this situation any different? Is it because they are wearing a badge?
I have come to learn there is a fine line between law enforcement and harassment. Just because you wear a badge that does not legitimise your intolerance. The ideal notion of laws are to protect society, well I would like to ask where this man’s protection is? In a State that has become so wealthy with a resources boom, is our Government that greedy that it will institutionalise the legitimization of economic violence against the homeless to such an extent that they publicly humiliate a homeless man over a $3 fair evasion?
I propose to TransPerth that they no longer refer to it as “public transport”, because it clearly doesn’t belong to the public.
If you would like to help the homeless please feel free to help buy.
Also please support:
CLiCK Inc WA – I’m a director here, one of the programs we do involves giving free mobile phones to those at risk of homelessness so they can be contactable, please donate any old phones or chargers!