Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

NYPD’s Lawrence DePrimo: Good Intentions, Not Good Results

December 6, 2012 9:10 pm 2 comments

New York City police officer Lawrence DePrimo gives a pair of boots to a homeless man.

I am sure that most feel a sense of warmth and compassion deep down, after reading the very moving recent story, and seeing the accompanying picture, of a police officer handing a pair of boots to a homeless and barefoot man.

And we should. There is nothing more meaningful and inspiring than seeing an act of true goodness being done by someone, when it is obviously for no reward. (It’s not like the police officer commissioned a photographer to take that somewhat unclear picture!)

So I am sure that most also share with me a sense of surprise and heartache to see this update on the story from the New York Times, of the same homeless man sans shoes once again.

It is truly tragic that this man has fallen on such hard times, especially as it is reported that he is a US army veteran. Yet this story highlights precisely why it is so hard to care for such a person, as I will point out.

The following is in no way meant as a criticism of the beautiful kind act of NYPD officer Lawrence DePrimo. Nor is it a judgment of the unfortunate homeless man Jeffrey Hillman. Rather it is meant to highlight that which we all ought to think about.

There are four possible reasons that I can think of, as to why this man is no longer wearing his new boots.

First, the man’s own admission. Being that these boots are relatively valuable ($100), his ownership of them puts his life in danger. In the dark alleys of homeless New York, how is a man to defend himself against robbery of his valuable possessions? So, in his words, he had no choice but to hide them!

Second, he sold them. Why would a homeless freezing man, sell the only source of warmth for his freezing toes?
It is possible that he was so hungry that he had no choice. Or it may be that he had some other very pressing need that he felt was more important than avoiding getting frostbitten.

Third, possibly he is unwell, emotionally and/or mentally. Perhaps for him being homeless and cold is the only lifestyle that he is ‘comfortable’ with. And being wedded to the life of homelessness and cold he did the “irrational”. Unfortunately there are too many cases of individuals who were helped to come in from the cold and fill their vacant stomachs, set up with a job etc. only to revert back to their former helpless lives in a very short time.

And finally, He may be fully aware of his surroundings. If you notice he is panhandling outside a shoe shop. How much more effective are his collection efforts, when he forces you to contrast his barefoot homelessness, with your warm feet? Especially when you may very well have just bought yourself a fourth pair, or a fourteenth pair; which for the most part will spend its time in the closet.

Either way, when walking past such an individual who is hurting, which decent fellow wouldn’t want to help him? So how is one to effectively help this man?

This brings to mind an important teaching of the Kabbalah. There are different sides to kindness. There is the kindness that we all share. That is the desire to give to others. Whether gifts of friendship, presents to relatives, or even strangers. This builds relationships and is habitual kindness.

Then there is a more advanced level of kindness – compassion. To give to someone who is in need, who hasn’t necessarily done anything to deserve your friendship or kindness. This is the admirable compassion of that police officer.

But both kindness and compassion may sometimes be lacking. It can be misguided and ineffective, as we have seen above. What we need here is a level of kindness that is deeper still. Not to give what I need or want to give, nor to give how and to whom I want to give; but to give that which the other needs to receive.

If the fellow is correct that the new pair of boots became a magnet to thieves. Then actually by giving him a nice pair of new boots one is doing him a disservice. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, a second-hand pair that perhaps even had a hole or two, would be so much more suitable.

If the real story here is that this man is mentally unwell, then what is really called for is some tough love (as difficult as that may be to carry out). This man may need medical help, perhaps some therapy or medication from a professional therapist or psychiatrist. No matter how much assistance he receives with his external symptoms, little will be achieved. Deep love, which in this case would be tough love, would demand leading him to get real help, even if that is not what he says he wants.

This takes thought. This takes understanding. This takes a deeper approach to kindness, compassion and love. Not just to act on our natural instincts, but to be guided by the mind, to assess the appropriate kind of kindness needed by each individual person and situation.

It may be hard mental and emotional work, but the dividends are worth it. This type of love is so much more effective.

So the next time you have an opportunity to give, think about this:

You can give with your hand.
You can give from your heart.

But even better would be, to give using your mind.


Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.

Current day month ye@r *


  • Arts and Culture Beliefs and concepts What’s That Huge White Bridal Dress Floating Over the Tower of David?

    What’s That Huge White Bridal Dress Floating Over the Tower of David? –  “What’s that huge white bridal dress floating over the Tower of David?” That’s what visitors to Jerusalem’s Old City asked last week. The wedding gown, created by leading Israeli artist Motti Mizrachi, is part of the 2nd Jerusalem Biennale for Contemporary Jewish Art, an event that blew into town as the Sukkot holiday got underway. Mizrachi, who lives and works in Tel Aviv, created the dress that floats majestically over the Tower of David, the main exhibition site […]

    Read more →
  • Features Opinion The Top 10 Places to Visit in Israel

    The Top 10 Places to Visit in Israel

    Israel is a holiday destination on many travelers’ bucket lists. No matter the style of holiday you are after, Israel has the answer. Whether you prefer to relax by the beach, hike up mountains in the desert, visit religious and historical sites, eat your way through the country or just enjoy some retail therapy, your journey through Israel will be one to remember. While there are obviously so many things to see and do, here is a list of 10 of […]

    Read more →
  • Pioneers/Philanthropists US & Canada Jewish American Fashion Mogul Ralph Lauren to Step Down as CEO

    Jewish American Fashion Mogul Ralph Lauren to Step Down as CEO – Jewish American fashion mogul Ralph Lauren announced his plan to step down as chief executive officer of the renowned fashion brand. The head of Gap Inc’s Old Navy brand will take over the position. The 75-year-old Lauren, who founded Ralph Lauren Corp. in 1967, will continue to serve as executive chairman and will continue leading the fashion house’s design team, according to a statement by the company. After the announcement, Ralph Lauren shares rose 3.79 percent while Gap shares […]

    Read more →
  • Featured Sports US & Canada Jewish Boxer Dustin ‘White Tiger’ Fleischer Scores Fourth Knockout Victory

    Jewish Boxer Dustin ‘White Tiger’ Fleischer Scores Fourth Knockout Victory

    Jewish boxer Dustin Fleischer, who said his quest is to become the first world champion descended from a Holocaust survivor, stayed unbeaten with a first-round knockout. Fleischer, nicknamed “The White Tiger,” moved to 4-0 with the defeat of Ira Frank on Saturday night in Beach Haven, New Jersey, near his home, he reported after the fight on his Facebook page. The 26-year-old welterweight has won all his bouts by knockout. Read full story at JTA.

    Read more →
  • Featured Israel Pioneers/Philanthropists Meet Israel’s Santa Claus, the Trustee Tasked With Handing Out Leona Helmsley’s Billions (INTERVIEW)

    Meet Israel’s Santa Claus, the Trustee Tasked With Handing Out Leona Helmsley’s Billions (INTERVIEW)

    Renowned New York attorney Sandor (Sandy) Frankel, one of four trustees of the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, was in Israel earlier this month to look at additional philanthropic options and to observe the progress of those endeavors already funded – to the tune of multi-millions. Frankel, who recently joined the prestigious Park Avenue law firm Otterbourg P.C., met with Israeli politicians and other bigwigs to get a sense from them about which projects in the country […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Food Spirituality/Tradition ‘Pastry Secrets’ Arrive Just in Time for Rosh Hashanah

    ‘Pastry Secrets’ Arrive Just in Time for Rosh Hashanah – Babka. Strudel. Stollen. Danish pastry. Not to mention Gugelhopf and Charlotte. The names set the mouth to watering and conjure up lovingly concocted pastries that feed the body and comfort the soul. If you didn’t have a grandmother who baked these delicacies, you wish that you had. George Greenstein was never a grandmother, but his life as a baker provided his children and grandchildren with memories infused with the smell of fresh baked bread and rugelach. His daughters, Julia […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Spirituality/Tradition Fusing Israeli and Holocaust History, Novel Offers a ‘Middle Eastern Western’

    Fusing Israeli and Holocaust History, Novel Offers a ‘Middle Eastern Western’ – There is a game that all of us have played at some time in our lives. We ask ourselves: What would my life be like if I had gone to this school instead of that one, or if I had married this girl instead of that one? In their newly published book The Ambassador, authors Yehuda Avner and Matt Rees play that game with modern Jewish history. Avner — who died earlier this year, and was a speechwriter, secretary and adviser to […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Lifestyle A Toulouse Fashion Student Finds Style and Harmony in the Holy Land

    A Toulouse Fashion Student Finds Style and Harmony in the Holy Land

    A unique group of young fashion bloggers and designers recently visited Israel to learn more about the country’s fashion industry and diverse culture. Hailing from the Philippines, Korea, Kenya, Japan, Brazil, Spain, France, Germany, Russia, and the U.K., the 10 participants toured the country and met with top Israeli fashion designers throughout last week. “It was an amazing experience,” said Meissene Maghni from Toulouse, France — one of the participants of the program. “I’m Muslim and I really wanted to see Israel […]

    Read more →