New York, New York, the city so nice, it gives us ethical quandaries

Two interesting stories from New York City over the past week and both raise serious moral and ethical issues.

Story No. 1: A NYC police officer buys a pair of boots for a barefoot homeless man.

NYC Police Officer Larry DiPrimo offers Jeffrey Hillman a pair of shoes in this AP photo shared by Jennifer Foster.

This incident actually took place Nov. 14, but the story broke last week when
Jennifer Foster, who was visiting from Florence, Ariz. and captured the moment with a cell phone camera — posted the photo on Facebook.

Posted Nov. 27th on the NYPD’s Facebook page, the image had been shared more than 133,000 times and “Liked” by more than 409,000 people after just two days.

The 25-year-old officer, Larry DePrimo, was hailed as a hero and the story had a nice feelgood vibe about it.

Me being a little cynical, I questioned whether the story was genuine. DePrimo insisted he had no idea he was being photographed. And it appears he didn’t. The media caught up with the homeless man, Jeff Hillman, and it turns out he really is a down-on-his-luck homeless man.

But there is more to this story. Hillman has a long arrest record that includes charges for drug possession, harassment, menacing, criminal mischief, reckless endangerment, possession of stolen property, resisting arrest, forgery, and grand larceny.

Furthermore, help has been offered to him numerous times and he has a history of rejecting housing. When the New York Times tracked Hillman down this week, he was again barefoot, telling the newspaper that his new boots were in a safe place.

So the moral question here is: should we extend charity to folks who may waste it?

Story No. 2: Tuesday’s New York Post cover photo and story of the man killed after he was pushed in front of a subway train.

This photo is too unsettling to post, but you can find it with a simple Google search. A freelance photographer for the New York Post was on a subway platform heading to an assignment when police say a crazed man pushed Ki-Suck Han onto the subway tracks.

The photographer, R. Umar Abbasi, insisted that he was simply not strong enough to lift the man but, rather than try, he decided to snap pictures.

There are a whole host of moral and ethical dilemmas with this incident. Venom is being aimed at the photographer, but apparently there was a crowd of people on the platform, none of whom offered assistance to Han, 58.

Legal experts have opined there was no legal duty to help the man.

But what about simply doing the right thing? Have we lost the instinctive desire to help a fellow human being in need?

About John Hilton

I grew up in Susquehanna County, Pa. and graduated Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism/political science in 1998. After working for nearly three years for a weekly paper in upstate New York, I came to southcentral Pennsylvania. I spent 13 years as a reporter and editor for The Sentinel in Carlisle and joined the York Daily Record as religion reporter in September 2011.
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