When a big-hearted NYPD officer bought a pair of shoes for a homeless man in Times Square recently, he became an Internet hero. But Officer Larry DePrimo's incredible gift wasn't the best thing that's ever happened to the man we know now is Jeffrey Hillman, a former New Jersey resident. The homeless man is already back to being barefoot.
It's a fact that is already drawing the Internet's ire. The grumblings of "ungrateful" and backlash against the homeless community has begun. But let's just hold on to our righteous indignation for a moment, shall we? Jeffrey Hillman lives on the streets. He understands them much better than we do. And hiding a pair of $100 Sketchers is the right move here.
As Hillman told The New York Times when they tracked him down:
Those shoes are hidden. They are worth a lot of money. I could lose my life.
Unfortunately, Hillman is probably right. A ragged pair of hand-me-downs wouldn't have been quite as nice from a happy holiday story perspective, but they certainly would have kept safe Hillman from the target that would be on his back if he wandered the streets at night in a pair of fancy new boots.
This isn't to say that Officer DePrimo was wrong. His act of generosity stands.
But everywhere today I've noted that other media picking up the New York Times interview with the now infamous homeless man have chosen to gloss over the fear Hillman has had to live with since his run-in with Officer DePrimo. They've reported instead that the homeless man complained that his image was used around the web without his permission, that he would rather have a "piece of pie."
From our comfortable homes and offices, it's easy to roll your eyes and be angry that a man given such a wonderful gift could "throw it away." Most of us can't imagine being mugged for a pair of nice shoes, but this is the reality of life on the streets. We are lucky in that sense. We are blessed.
But put yourself in Jeffrey Hillman's shoes, literally, and the view is different, isn't it?
He isn't ungrateful. He's a homeless man just trying to stay alive in a world where most people aren't as big-hearted as Officer Larry DePrimo.
When you heard the homeless man in this story was barefoot, what was your initial reaction?
Image via NYPD Facebook