Jeffrey Hillman shambles along the streets of New York City looking quite unkempt, drab and hopeless. He panhandles sometimes and mutters to himself. Frankly, he looks a wreck and apparently often is in need of a pair of shoes. One cold winter night, he got a pair.
Officer Lawrence DePrimo spotted Mr. Hillman seated shoeless on the pavement of Times Square. The young policeman left his post, went into a nearby store and bought Mr. Hillman a pair of shoes costing $100. He even helped Mr. Hillman put them on. A tourist snapped a picture of Officer DePrimo doing this, and the picture appeared on Facebook. It went viral and was seen around the world — a young New York City cop, putting shoes on a beggar.
What an auspicious way to begin the Christmas season. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg declaimed, “That’s what they’re trained to do — help people.” Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly was more appreciative. He gave the 25-year-old policeman a pair of police department cuff links at a private meeting. Others now claim to have bought Mr. Hillman shoes over the years. My guess is he has a stash of them someplace. Possibly, he is planning to open a shoe store — assuming, that is, that his tax rate does not go up under President Obama.
We are learning more about Mr. Hillman as time goes by. He is not homeless. The New York Daily News reports that the 54-year-old lived from 2009 to 2011 in transitional housing sites called Safe Havens. Owing to his status as a veteran, he then secured his present apartment through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans outreach services have continued to try to help, but apparently for naught. A spokeswoman for the city’s outreach services reported that Mr. Hillman “has a history of turning down services.” Doubtless, some day he will become ill, and the city will put him in some government program, possibly Medicaid, possibly Obamacare, to recuperate.
The more one looks into the case of this beneficiary of state and federal welfare, the more curious his plight appears. The Daily News reports that he played basketball for South Plainfield High School in New Jersey. A smiling Mr. Hillman is pictured in the South Plainfield High School yearbook horsing around with classmates, one of whom, John Graf, became a minister. Actually, Mr. Hillman’s photo looks much different from the shambling vagrant seen in Times Square without shoes in November. He looks pretty middle class. His classmates look rather prosperous, too, and quite happy. What happened?
Today he seems crazed. He is grateful for Officer DePrimo’s kindness, but he is angry at the world. I sense a notion of entitlement. “I was put on YouTube,” he says, “I was put on everything without permission. What do I get?” Perhaps he will get a media agent. Possibly he has been reading Paul Krugman’s diatribes in The New York Times. He goes on, “This [picture without shoes and with Officer DePrimo looking on] went around the world, and I want a piece of the pie.” That certainly sounds like a Krugman idea. I wonder if Mr. Krugman is going to help him with the pie. Could Mr. Hillman become a lecturer at Harvard Law School? Derelicts have lectured there before.
Recall back in the late 1980s when Joyce Brown, a homeless woman who was quite mad, was invited to Harvard to give a lecture on homelessness. She returned to the streets shortly thereafter, shouting obscenities at passers-by, lurching into traffic, exposing herself. Her end was not edifying. At any rate, she was just part of a long parade of unfortunate wretches who have been invited to our nation’s college campuses, starting with our leading colleges, to illustrate one or another of the weird desiderata of the left-wing’s credo.
Mr. Hillman, as the beneficiary of endless state and federal largesse, might well be memorialized in American history with a special designation. Call him “Obama Man.” In Mr. Hillman’s belief system and lifestyle, he represents, roughly speaking, all that Mr. Obama has in mind for America. It is a citizenry basically beholden to government. As for Officer DePrimo — what will we call him? Call him the modern good Samaritan, and tax him to death. He deserves it.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor-in-chief of the American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. He is the author most recently of “The Death of Liberalism” (Thomas Nelson, 2012).