A random act of kindness as cop tends to homeless man on cold NY night


The ageing, homeless man sits hunched over his beggar’s cup, his ragged trousers and bare feet extended in front of him, the plastic bag holding his meagre belongings beside him.

A police officer kneels on the pavement. The two men are bathed in light from a shopfront window, a pair of new boots between them.

If you were looking for cruelty and acrimony this week, there was plenty of it. Palestinians and Israelis called each other “barbarians” and “terrorists” at the UN.

One Republican derided another as a “weasel” for appearing to concede ground in their budgetary war with the Obama administration.

Authorities deplored the torture and killing of six dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico; one dolphin was shot in the lung, another stabbed in the head with a screwdriver, a third had its jaw cut off.

Homeless man

Amid such reports, the image of Officer Larry DePrimo and the homeless man, whose identity remains unknown, became America’s 2012 Christmas Carol.

It went viral on the internet and was shown on every television network, after it was sent to the New York Police Department by a tourist from Arizona. You didn’t have to be a practising Christian to see an allusion to the Gospel in the photograph.

By yesterday, more than half a million people had “liked” it on the NYPD’s Facebook page; 186,000 shared it and 40,000 left comments, including one named Siobhán Heaney who wrote “Blessings and luck from Ireland”.

DePrimo was on duty in Times Square when he saw the man hobbling down 7th Avenue with blistered, naked feet on a frozen night in mid- November. The police officer initiated a conversation and later described the man as “the most polite gentleman I had met”.

DePrimo asked the man’s shoe size and dashed into Skechers, where night manager José Cano used his instore discount to sell a pair of all- weather boots and thermal socks to DePrimo at a reduced price of $75.

“Most of us are New Yorkers and we just kind of pass by that kind of thing, especially in this neighbourhood,” Cano told the New York Times.

Jennifer Foster, a dispatch manager at the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office in Florence, Arizona for the past 17 years, was about to approach the homeless man, who by now was sitting on the pavement outside the shoe shop, when DePrimo came out and said, according to Foster: “I have these size 12 boots for you; they’re all- weather. Let’s put them on and take care of you.”

Nothing in return

“The officer squatted down on the ground and proceeded to put socks and the new boots on the man,” Foster said in a note attached to the image she posted on the NYPD Facebook page. “The officer expected nothing in return and did not know I was watching.”

Although she didn’t know DePrimo’s name, Foster wrote, “I have been in law enforcement for 17 years. I was never so impressed in my life.”

At a press conference on Thursday, DePrimo (25) clasped a box of cufflinks given to him by police commissioner Ray Kelly. He has been a cop for 2½ years and lives with his parents in Long Island.

He is stunned by his newfound celebrity. “When I brought out the shoes, it was just a smile from ear to ear,” DePrimo recounted. “It was a great moment for both of us.”

Although they haven’t drawn anywhere near the attention, I have noticed many acts of kindness in the Irish community in recent days.

The Flax Trust, a charity founded in Belfast in 1977 to promote reconciliation between Protestants and Catholics, announced at its annual breakfast in Washington that it has raised $233,394 for education programmes in Northern Ireland.

Irish Network USA is holding benefits for the victims of Hurricane Sandy in at least eight US cities.

Seventy-five people attended the Washington event this week, contributing more than $2,000 for Sandy’s victims and other charities.

The American Ireland Fund has raised $250,000, mainly for the strongly Irish-American communities of Breezy Point and the Rockaways.

Sandy victims

The Ireland Fund’s Young Leaders will co-host fundraisers with US ambassador Dan Rooney and Irish ambassador Michael Collins in coming days, while Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and secretary of state Hillary Clinton will announce further support from Ireland for Irish- American victims of Sandy when they meet in Dublin on December 6th.

In this seasonal gusher of good will, I couldn’t help recalling one of my favourite quotes, often attributed to Plato: “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”

Larry DePrimo was kinder than necessary. He wanted to buy the homeless man a cup of coffee and some food, but the moment he was shod, the man walked away into the cold New York night.