Take the other day, for instance. My friend Matthew panhandles in front of Starbucks from time to time. Lately he has been out there more, though, as times get harder for everyone, so do things for those at the very bottom. And this is a good person I speak about here, people. He has two kids who live in Fort Bragg and drives up there every other week to see them. He makes sure they always get what they need financially; and part of those finances comes from his panhandling on Shattuck Avenue.
The other day, as Matthew panhandled, he noticed something strange. It had been just after noon and all the Berkeley High School kids were out, mulling about, getting food and whatnot... the usual. That's apparently when Matthew noticed a man with a camera at his side taking photos of "very young girls," Matthew explained. Taking provocative shots of Freshmen, "or younger" he stated. Matthew then confronted the man and the man began to flee the area. Matthew decided to follow behind and see if he could do something.
The man he followed looked "normal," apparently. He had short hair, "graying," he said... and added, "He looked sort of like Richard Gere." Sorry, Richard Gere, we're not saying you're a Cho Mo (Code out here for 'child molester') or anything, just pointing out there's an apparent Doppelganger running around with your tag on him is all. Anyway, so that was the description. Just a normal, run-of-the-mill guy. Mr. Average.
Once arriving at Constitution Plaza, just in front of Chase Bank (or as I like to call it, the 'Death Star'), Matthew decided to confront him and his apparent-perverted actions. Once confronted the Creep lost composure, apparently, and pulled out his wallet, in an attempt at bribing my friend. He offered Matthew eleven dollars. Matthew laughed him off with a tone of absurdity and demanded an explanation of his actions and the fancy camera work. The man then (allegedly) stammered something about taking pictures, but Matthew knew he was lying, by the noticing his nervous histrionics and shaky words coming out of his mouth.
Matthew then demanded he show him the photos he took earlier, while around the high school kids. But the man feigned ignorance and began moving away from Matthew. Now, Matthew did tell me he flashed (in his mind) that he should have just taken the man's wallet when he had it out, trying to bribe him, because he could have then taken the wallet to the police and they would have had his ass, clean, no fuss no muss. But, he also thought that, considering how they both appeared, and with cameras all over that place, like hoards of male "massage therapists" at a Republican National Convention, it would look like he was robbing the man.
And there it is. Perception versus reality, and the reality is the opposite is true.. Appearances are deceiving. If you stood both men side by side, and asked ten average citizens who they would think committed a crime, odds are, 9 out of 10, if not 10 out of 10, would pick my friend over the real criminal. That's the sad truth and we all know it. This is how child molesters get away with it, everyone. Parents spend so much time scaring their children into worrying about the wrong people. This is why serial killers are often successful for a while before they are caught, because most of them appear "normal," wearing average clothes and not sticking out too much, usually working in some area of trusted profession, like child care, teaching, or some form of law enforcement.
We all know this, yet, we still fall for the appearance bullshit? Why? Because the "news" media sells it. And here we have a case where the panhandler, the "scum bag," a lot of folks would call us, is the actual and literal "good guy," while the other guy, the guy everyone would trust, simply because of his clothing and appearance -- especially if he looks like a handsome movie star -- will allow him the keys to their house and ask him to "baby sit" for them when they go out of town for a week. That's usually around the same time little Johnny begins to shut down and stops talking to family members. A few years later you walk into little Johnny's room and see him swinging from the ceiling fan with a note stapled to his t-shirt that explains the entire sordid tale.
Matthew reported the act to the police and that was that. Hopefully this guy isn't a "trusted member of the community," like someone the mayor knows, allegedly.
So, the next time you see a panhandler or "homeless" person out there, remember, they are not all "bad people." Some of them even stand up for your kids out here.
-James Richard Armstrong II