A dollar's worth of compassion
So many victims, only so much sympathy in my heart to go around. When I was a kid, my mom would give me a dollar once in a while. This grand bestowal threw me into a maelstrom of indecision. Comic books, candy bars, rubber band-powered airplanes, baseball cards? Even in those days a buck only went so far. I felt similar emotions when I read the newspapers this week. A lot of bad things happened to all sorts of people -- and I wonder how much currency of compassion to allocate to each.
A kid on a bike in East Hartford was killed by a car. A man in New York was allegedly brutalized by the police. A settlement was offered to the victims of faulty breast implants. Single teen mothers are worried over their impending cutoff from welfare. Tobacco companies are ponying up billions, if not for the addicts of their products, at least to the states in which they live (and their lawyers). And, in a victimization blast-from-the-past, Rodney King was arrested. I'll offer up my dollar's worth for the week this way:
Millionaire (courtesy of the LAPD) Rodney King gets none of it. White on black police brutality is a serious and real issue, but this guy was a poor choice as poster boy. I won't defend the L.A. cops, but I'm not sure a white guy on a substance high who led a 90 mile an hour police chase would have been treated any more gently.
Forty cents goes to the parents of the child who was killed on Tolland Street. The loss of a child is the most pain one can endure in this lifetime. This case is sadder still because maybe a helmet or stricter supervision could have prevented it.
A quarter of the compassion dollar goes to the women who received faulty breasts. Part of this donation is to assuage my own culpability as one who lets his remote-control finger rest on the Baywatch channel, thus contributing to our society's unrealistic goals for the female anatomy.
Still, only a nickel of this allocation goes to women who had their surgery for cosmetic reasons; the rest is reserved for those who had a legitimate medical need for the implants.
Two dimes for the teen mothers about to be thrown off the dole. I spoke with several of these young mothers in Hartford last week. They were all bright, articulate, well-informed and, surprisingly, think the change in the welfare law will be good for them. Jacqueline, 19, has two sons ages 4 and six months. She said she wished she had waited a while to have children, and only shrugged when asked why after her first child, she hadn't quite caught on to where babies come from. But she gets my sympathy because she is young, uneducated, faces an uncertain future and her ironic statement that she wanted to raise her sons not to be the type of boys who get teenagers pregnant.
Ten cents goes to cigarette smokers. What they get from the billions of dollars coughed up by the tobacco companies is higher taxes levied on their cancer sticks. The theory behind the states keeping the dough is that they have incurred higher costs for medical care -- but where did the per-pack tax money go? Most of the settlement will go to finance health care for children with a substantial reserve for lawyers. Smokers, most of whom would quit if they could find a way and who are disproportionally represented in lower-income groups, will just have to pay more for their nicotine fixes.
I've got a nickel left over for the poor Haitian in Brooklyn who very likely was beaten by a sadist hiding behind a badge. My stinginess here is made a little more palatable because I know this guy (and his lawyer) will soon join the Rodney King millionaire club. I don't doubt there are police officers who themselves should be behind bars but I also know of a Hartford cop who was sued for breaking a suspect's nose. I don't know if he did it, but I do know he arrested the same guy over 30 times on domestic violence charges. He apparently thought beating his girlfriend was good sport. Sometimes, the worm turns.
Come to think of it, I feel pretty bad for those poor guys on the Mir space station. Brother, can you spare a dime?
August 27, 1997