“No compassion for these transients here. My compassion is saved for those that deserve it.”

– Brian St Germain, West Hills

Sydney, one of my three youngest daughters, has returned from her first year of college with an expanded interest in political engagement. She had asked questions about how neighborhood councils get input from their neighbors and then advise the City Council about pending legislation, so I invited her to join me at a Northridge East Neighborhood Council meeting, of which I am an elected member. Since my wife had another appointment, we also brought along her two triplet sisters, who are on the autism spectrum.

While Zoey and Morgan’s disabilities are severe, they are still members of the community and we refuse to keep them hidden away. Our family has become extremely adept at sensing impending breakdowns and will quickly remove them to a more private area if they are about to become disruptive. This rarely happens.

I will be the first to admit that Zoey’s quirky behavior can be annoying, after all, I did take the triplets on a car trip up the west coast. This includes non-verbal vocalizations that she makes, particularly when she is happy and especially when enjoying food. While eating a slice of pizza that was provided before the meeting began she was making these noises when the lady in front of her turned and asked her to stop. Sydney explained that this was just something that her sister does and that she was trying her best to help her stay quiet. The lady later asked: “Is she coo-coo?”

Sydney is very protective of both her sisters, but she was left at a loss by this question. She seethed inside wanting to say something more than the simple “no, she has autism” that she uttered, but was left at a loss by the display of ignorance. Autism is not a mental illness, but the lack of knowledge about the subject was not the biggest problem; the wording of the question was insensitive and it was simply rude to be asking it. It showed a lack of empathy for Sydney in her role as caretaker and for the difficulties faced on a daily basis by Morgan and Zoey.

Los Angeles’ expanding homeless problem presents another example of our community’s inability to feel empathy towards people facing difficulties. Far too often the conversations about this subject center around how the homeless negatively affect those who are privileged to have a roof over their heads rather than actions that will ensure that everyone has shelter. Sometimes outright hostility spills over into the conversation, as in this example from a local Facebook page:

West Hills, California-page-002

The genesis of this particular conversation occurred when someone saw a homeless person defecating in the bushes at the side of a freeway entrance. While some people had actual suggestions about how to solve the problem like the city providing portable restrooms, most just seemed outraged that person was daring to engage in an activity that is required by nature. Apparently, they wanted him to hold it in until his housing situation had been resolved.

This attitude has spilled over to our local city council office. Council District 12 is the only one in the city of Los Angeles that has not provided housing under Measure HH. Efforts to provide safe parking spaces for those living in RVs has also been blocked. Instead, no parking signs have been put up on public streets where people have tried to spend the night with a roof over their head. It seems that our leaders do not want to solve the homeless problem, they just do not want the unhoused to be visible.

It should not be surprising that the most poisonous venom is reserved for online forums. When preliminary results in a recent primary election to fill a vacant city council seat showed that Dr. Loraine Lundquist had upset the establishment to come in second place, people who supported other candidates took to Nextdoor.com to complain. Despite the city’s election rules which clearly state that unless a candidate secures more than 50% of the vote, a runoff will be held between the top two finishers, they complained that Dr. Lundquist was somehow cheating because first place finisher John Lee was not being immediately seated. As expressed by Mike Hakverdian: “When you run for something and get the most votes, that makes you the winner. That rule pretty much applies to all areas of life.”

It turns out that Dr. Lundquist did not come in second place. When the mail-in ballots were counted on the Friday after the election she was found to have received the most votes. Seeing the newfound irony in Hakverdian’s statement, I included it as the lead-in to my article about Dr. Lundquist’s victory.

Hakverdian was not happy that the bluster he had exhibited behind a firewall on Nextdoor was now available publicly. He sent me a private message asking me to take it down as he did not “wish for [his] name to appear in this manner.” Rather than trying to clean up after himself after his words become public, Hakverdian would do better by treating all people with respect, even online. As a community, we would all be better if we followed that rule.

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Carl Petersen is a parent and special education advocate, elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” His past blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.