On August 17th last year a man was kicked to death in by three teenagers on a dare. The man was Kevin Bennett, 53 year old who slept rough at the back of Iceland in Walton, Liverpool. He suffered a fractured eye socket, collapsed lung and a broken ribcage. His attackers were convicted of his murder yesterday.
This blurry photo seems to be the best of him.
According to Tommy Allman and others abuse of rough sleepers is common. As former rough sleeper Allman described what happened to him and others he knows through his work with the Basement, a Liverpool homelessness charity. He describes how rough sleepers get stamped on, crushed, urinated on and even set fire to. To add to that list, we now have someone who has been kicked to death as dare. In a TV interview Allman highlighted the importance of education and increasing awareness of the back stories causing people to become homeless. Homelessness does not happen in isolation and can be caused by financial difficulties, health issues, relationship breakdown or addictions.
Shelter Scotland has found that one in four of is just one paycheck away from homelessness, and that 5300 children were homeless last Christmas. Not all homeless people are rough sleepers, but rough sleepers is the public face of homelessness, and that public face is often not seen in human and humane terms. For many, they are just “bums” to be kicked, sometimes to death.
This was the story that held my attention as I read the ancient wisdom we call Psalm 35. The Psalm could have been written by murdered Kevin Bennett. Or it could have been written by one of the many people whose “back story” and heart of love is ignored and trampled on. The psalmist prays: “Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those that fight against me”. It could be Kevin Bennett praying “let those who seek after my life be shamed and disgraced; let those who plot my ruin fall back and be put to confusion … They reward me evil for good.
Friend Rob yesterday observed “we don’t know what people think”, and it is likely that there weren’t many people who bothered what Kevin thought. Certainly the psalmist’s abusers had no idea what the psalmist thought. They couldn’t see a heart that loved them. The hands they trod on weren’t apparently praying hands. Little did they realise that “when they were sick he put on sackcloth, fasted for them and prayed”. The psalmist writes out his agony when his prayer for them seem to be unanswered:
When my prayer returned empty to my bosom,
it was as though I grieved for my friend or brother;
I behaved as one who mourns for his mother,
bowed down and brought very low.”
In spite of that, the mocking continued. “When I stumbled, they gathered in delight; they gathered together against me; as if they were strangers I did not know, they tore at me without ceasing.”
They carried on kicking him in.
As a dare
to look big
they blindly crushed scum,
unable to see the man.
Forgive them, they don’t know what they do.
As for me,
I would not have seen.
It would have been a vague impression,
from the very edge of averted, defensive gaze,
of a blur with no depth of feeling.
I did not know him.