This is precisely what can happen when things get particularly stupid — when the rhetoric gets hot, tempers flare and judgment gets rushed.
It’s dangerous. It’s wrong. And, most importantly, the lives of real people can often be impacted for the worse.
When it occurs — which it too often does — it should serve as a warning and an example, but does that ever really happen?
Call me a cynic, but I have my doubts.
I’m writing about a bizarre story out of Seattle this week that carried with it all the red flags listed above.
It started with a travel trailer, parked mysteriously in front of a Seattle City Council member’s home, and devolved from there.
Ultimately, it ended up ensnaring an outspoken conservative radio talker, a failed candidate, an activist and a guy with some spray paint. The list goes on — and, yes, includes a few media outlets.
I would describe it as a strange tale, but the word “strange” seems inadequate.
But it was something, that’s for certain — something to finally learn from if we have any sense at all.
Ultimately, Scott Greenstone of the Seattle Times provided what at this point stands as the definitive and most-thoughtful blow-by-blow, so I’ll save you from a thorough rehashing. Suffice to say — by the time things were said and done — the travel trailer in question somehow came to serve as a proxy for Seattle’s ever-raging homelessness debate.
People quickly took sides. Fingers were pointed.
The travel trailer was vandalized. The radio host could barely conceal his boyish delight. And mistakes were made all around.
The worst part? It was what far too many people either missed, overlooked or simply didn’t care about.
The trailer — which was recently purchased for $1 as a temporary home — belonged to a a pregnant 21-year-old woman and her 25-year-old boyfriend.
There were real, live humans in the story, because of course there were.
The couple was staying with a family member and had chosen the spot at random to park their trailer, it was later revealed, just trying to get by. Unwittingly, the couple ended up in the middle of a firestorm that resulted in multiple violations of their rights, privacy and property, not to mention a few nasty insults and at least one bottle thrown their way.
Oh, yeah, and a few days worth of notoriety they never asked for.
In retrospect, knowing what we know, all of this poses two questions worth asking:
For starters, what is wrong with us?
And how did we let this happen?
In a world packed with polarizing subjects, homelessness certainly counts as one of them, and there’s plenty of reason for frustration. I get it.
But this — and the kindling that led to it? It was something beyond frustration and certainly well beyond anything frustration would justify.
That’s not to say it’s tough to diagnose.
This is, we should know by now, exactly what happens when anti-homelessness rhetoric reaches 11, and the humanity that’s at the center of the crisis is lost in the process. Words have consequences, as we’ve known all along.
Put simply, this is what happens when we’re at our worst.
Of course, here in Pierce County, it would perhaps be soothing to point and chastise those to the north for all of this.
That would be naive, however, because we’ve seen it here, too.
My colleagues Alexis Krell, Allison Needles and Josephine Peterson have documented some of it. Locally, panhandlers have been accosted, people in broken-down RVs have been berated, and vigilante justice has been championed on Facebook — and even by the occasional political candidate.
It has to stop, before it’s too late.
If there’s a silver lining in this latest story, it’s that some positives have come of it. A fundraiser for the couple, according to the Times, has raised more than $5,000, while Herbold has allowed the couple to use her driveway to park the travel trailer, at least for the time being.
Oh, and the radio talker gave the couple $100 for their trouble. Good for him.
Perhaps all of that — except for the last part — is evidence of people’s decency and should provide optimism.
It’s just that, at this stage in the game, I’m having trouble feeling it.
Because we shouldn’t let a happy ending — in this case — obscure what’s at stake.