The Missing Bench
The bench is gone. Yesterday I wrote about the bench on my corner. Situated in front of a vacant storefront. A resting place, a gathering place, an anchor for locals.
This morning I stepped outside to discover, much to my surprise, that the bench had been removed.
When did this happen?
I got home from work yesterday to find a police car parked across the street. While taking Einstein for a stroll I asked the officer what happened to the bench and when did it go away? He said the neighbors wanted it gone because it attracted loiterers. And the bench was removed that morning.
The officer wanted to know if I lived on the property on the corner- the row house situated most closely to the bench. I could see that some of the locals were borrowing my neighbors chairs. The officer said he was going to tell my neighbors to stop letting them use their chairs. It’s enabling them, he explained.
My neighbors are super sweet liberal young white professionals. The husband works for a nonprofit in the neighborhood that serves the homeless community. Heartbroken by Earl’s passing, the wife is tending to a garden in the front yard. Now named Earl’s garden.
Officer, I say, I think you should consider entering into that conversation with a little more information and a high degree of sensitivity.
I briefly told the Officer about how Earl was a local favorite, who helped grow the garden in my neighbor’s front yard. And about Earl dying on the bench from a heroine overdose just two months ago. And how saddened my neighbors were by his passing.
What happens when you coexist next to people is you see them. You exchange pleasantries. And over time, you get to know them. That’s the magic of integration. Humanizing the other.
Meanwhile, yesterday, the locals discovered the missing bench. What message other than, ‘you are not wanted here’ does the removal of the bench send?
And is the solution simply to drive them to another intersection with less potential for neighborhood complaints? Removing the bench may disrupt a local hang out spot but it doesn’t get to the root of the problem. I don’t have the answers but I know this one doesn’t feel good.