Amanda Yost is a frequent visitor to this site as well as a student at Santa Monica College currently studying cultural anthropology, with an eye toward cultural ethnography. (Yeah, I had to look that one up, too.) “I’m hoping,” Amanda says, “to focus on the ethnographic side of anthropology as another way to give a voice to the voiceless. Ethnography takes into account more than simple observation. It’s the understanding of the political, social, economic, religious, and other variables that contribute toward an individual or a society’s way of life.”
Amanda’s sense of respect and compassion is acute. What follows is a letter she wrote to a local TV station regarding the death of a homeless man in her hometown. One aspect of the ethical value of respect is honoring an individual’s dignity. In the case of the homeless man, Amanda believes that respecting an individual should be observed even after death.
I am writing this letter in response to your January 22, 2011 article regarding the unidentified transient found dead at Pershing Park. When I first read the piece I was disappointed by the lack of thoughtfulness put into a short blurb about a man’s death.
As journalists, you are skilled investigators. The man was discovered at 11:00am and your article posted at 4:15pm. Why couldn’t any reporter uncover the name of a man found dead in your city in five hours? I don’t mean to be disrespectful; I am simply surprised by this. The callousness of your article led me to do some investigating of my own. Within minutes I found out his name, Shaky; within a day I found out the time and place of his memorial.
On Wednesday, February 2nd, I traveled from Los Angeles to Pershing Park to give this man the respect he deserved in your article. Perhaps your readers would be interested in what I discovered.
In the first five minutes at Shaky’s memorial, I learned he was the unofficial gate keeper, the man who welcomed you into the park; perhaps offered a pair of socks to you on a cold night and had a story or two to share.
Shaky welcomed relief workers to the park and helped them understand the culture of homelessness. I learned he had a special passion for fruit and mustard. Within ten minutes, I learned he was a man gifted in the art of making both children and adults laugh. I learned that he saved a matchbox car for three weeks – three weeks of living between the streets and jail – for a little boy of a woman who befriended him and others without homes. I learned Shaky had his mom send a Sponge Bob Square Pants shower curtain for that little boy’s sister.
Within twenty minutes, I learned he was deeply loved and genuinely missed. He played guitar, told stories, shared his sleeping bag and opened his heart. More than learning all of these wonderful things about him, I learned that his name was Timothy Shaky French, not “transient in the park.” He had a name. He had friends. He had a life. And he will be missed.
Thank you for taking the time to read my letter and for allowing me the space to share with you about a man who seemed to impact everyone around him. I can only imagine what I could have discovered had I been able to stay a few hours longer.