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Invisible People

Who is Worth Saving?

The New York Times profiled an 11 year old homeless girl Dasani. Dasani is different. She’s smart and fast and she’s the de facto caretaker of her seven younger siblings. She lives in s shelter with her parents and siblings where they play host to vermin, roaches and mold. Indoor plumbing is iffy, Dasani’s mother Chanel is unpredictable and her biological father absent.

Maybe Dasani isn’t so remarkable? It’s clear that Andrea Elliot has fallen for the slight 11 year old child and her obvious love for her becomes it’s own character in the series. How could anyone not root for this child to overcome a very difficult childhood? How many Dasanis live in New York City? How many Dasanis are in Los Angeles?

Does living below the poverty line imbue children with strengths that would otherwise never develop?

If one can set aside some time to read the five part series on just one of New York City’s 22,000 homeless children it’s impossible to not want to do something. How can eight children live in third world filth two blocks away from $1.5 million apartments and $700 bottles of wine? How can we as a nation pity the poor children of emerging nations while tossing expired formula at our own? How do we fix this? How did we allow this to happen?

Great societies are measured by how they treat their poor, their children, their elderly and infirm. I’m not sure how we’d currently measure America. We try but we’re massive and the cracks that people can slip through sometimes seem like the Grand Canyon.

In the New York Post this week we met an attorney. He’s not a very good attorney. John Scarpa was defending Rasheen Everett who choked to death a trans woman he met on Craigslist. Unfortunately for Everett, Scarpa called Everett’s first wife to the stand where she testified that she and Everett split up after he strangled her. Just a few days later The Post reported:

“A sentence of 25 years to life is an incredibly long period of time judge,” John Scarpa said Thursday as he asked a judge to go easy on his client, Rasheen Everett, for killing hooker Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar in 2010.

“Shouldn’t that be reserved for people who are guilty of killing certain classes of individuals?”

Then, taking callousness to a new level, he said: “Who is the victim in this case? Is the victim a person in the higher end of the community?”

And because there are good people in the world (with neither Everett nor Scarpa being included among them) Everett was sentenced to 29 years in prison and the judge had tough words for Scarpa reminding him that we value every human life.

In reading headlines I wonder if we do. I know that we want to intervene and bring the Dasanis of the world out of poverty but I wonder if anyone wanted to save Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar from a life of prostitution and risk.

What if Andrea Elliot had profiled another child. Maybe one with fetal alcohol syndrome or ADD and crooked teeth? What if shelter kids are just average? How do we decide who is worth profiling or saving? Who tugs at our hearts and why are they required to tug? Is it enough to just exist? Will that ever be enough to make us want to care for people or do we need to save the exceptional people first?

What if the New York Times profiled an ugly child with a terrible story and even worse skin? Would we be abuzz and horrified and demanding that the system change or would we just look away? No one’s freaking out that a transgender prostitute was murdered. In fact you’re probably calling her a him and noting that hooking up on Craigslist is risky behavior. It’s okay to admit it to yourself, you don’t have to say it out loud but you do have to acknowledge what we’ve become.

I mean, we basically look away right now. Maybe it’s just more of the same?