BYSTANDER INTERVENTION: DON’T BE A SILENT BYSTANDER TO BULLYING

I had a very upsetting experience today. But not nearly as upsetting as the man who was treated both rudely and illegally by the manager of Fred Meyer.

While I was shopping at Fred Meyer, I said Hello to “V,” a man I recognized as a neighbor from the building where I live. He immediately began telling me in his customary sorrowful and gentle way, how angry he was, that the store manager would not take the cartful of aluminum beer cans he had, which appeared to have been picked up around the neighborhood. He said that the manager had told him it was because they were crushed.

My neighbor had many problems. Not only that his supply of beer cans was being rejected. I found out he was no longer my neighbor. He told me, “Somebody took three-hundred dollars out of my debit card. I negotiated and negotiated with them [presumably the apartment management], but they would not deal with me.” I asked if he had a place to live, now, and he said, “Yes,” which I was relieved to hear. But I didn’t want to insult him by asking if where he was now living was an apartment, or was temporary, with friends, under a bridge or tree.

More problems, so typical of people with chronic and severe mental illness, appeared during the next half hour, as I will explain below. As a person who has bipolar disorder myself, I, too, get very confused at times.

However, regarding Fred Meyer’s management and the aluminum cans.

I said to “V,” “Fred Meyer cannot refuse to take your cans. There is a law that they must take recycled aluminum cans. With certain exceptions, of course. But these mostly look fine, to me.”

He said, “I know it. But he said he wouldn’t take them, because they are crushed.”

I said, “Would you like for me to talk to the manager with you?” And he said that would be a good idea.

So we asked to see the manager again.

The manager did come. It was a different manager from the one “V” saw the first time. I thought maybe we’d get a different response.

But sure enough, the answer was the same. “We cannot take these cans. They are crushed.”

“V” told the manager, “But they get crushed inside the machines anyway….”

And I told the guy, “You have to take the cans. It’s the law.”

The manager said, “We cannot take them. The machines can’t read the codes on them when they are crushed like that. There might be cans from out of state or something….”

So I said, “Well, that’s too bad. The law says that you have to take cans. The law does not say the cans have to be uncrushed. You’re going to have to find a way to read the codes.”

The manager said, “We’d have to read all the codes by hand!”

I said, “Oh well! Then, you’re going to have to read all the codes by hand. Because the law says you have to take this man’s cans!”

So the manager agreed to take the cans. But, he added, “Don’t ever bring crushed cans in here again, because we don’t take them!”

About half an hour later, I was walking to the bus bench. I saw “V” coming towards the bench from about half a block away. This time, he had no cartful of cans. I walked toward him, and we walked slowly back toward the bench. Finally, I urged him to walk faster, since we both wanted to catch the bus and I was afraid it might speed past us.

So we walked faster together. But “V” was angry about something else – the Plaid Pantry had not taken some cans. It appeared that he had forgotten all about Fred Meyer store!

I asked him if Freddy’s had taken his cans, and he said Yes. So I was extremely glad that the manager was as good as his word, at least. But I had not forgotten another thing the manager said – “Don’t ever bring crushed cans in here again! Because we will not take them!”

“V” was even more upset now. He told me that the “lady at the the… [which I determined was the Plaid Pantry] – everybody hates her – would not take anything I had! I told her ‘I bought these [cans] here!’ and she said I didn’t buy them there! But I did! I did buy them there!

“She wouldn’t even let me bring my cart into the store! I tried to carry everything in – but then a bottle broke all over the sidewalk! I got so upset, I just left everything there!”

I could feel “V’s” pain and extreme frustration. But “V” is not a man who shouts, screams or yells.

“She doesn’t like me! She doesn’t like me. Is it because I have long hair?”

I said, “I agree. She doesn’t like you. That’s because you don’t look like a yuppie.”

So then I told him about the time that the man at the button shop downtown treated me the same rudeness he was being treated with today, because I didn’t look like a yuppie, either. And that I would never, ever go there again, even though I sew a lot, and would like to be able to buy their beautiful buttons.

When the bus came, I got on, but the driver tried not to let “V” take a seat, saying he did not have a disability card. I told the driver that I knew this man was disabled, and I gave “V” a ticket. But the driver said the ticket was an honored citizen ticket, and that he didn’t have an honored citizen card. When I spoke up for “V,” the driver said he could ride.

Then I noticed that “V” was trying to show the driver his November Honored Citizen Tri-Met pass.

So I told the driver, “Hey, I have one of the same monthly passes he has – why didn’t you question me?” And the driver pointed out that my Medicare card was peeking through from behind my November Tri-Met pass. “V” said he’d lost his Medicare card. And the driver explained that he was not allowed to accept the pass, unless the rider also had their Medicare card or other form of ID proving they were disabled.

So I reminded “V” that he needed to go to his Disability Worker immediately and get a substitute ID until his new Medicare card came in the mail.

But – also standard for people with a disorder of some forms of mental illness – “V” said, “Oh, this doesn’t happen very often. I don’t really need to worry about it.”

But, as I was getting off at my own stop, I was trying to tell “V” that if he got caught on the MAX, he could be fined $250.00.

MORAL to the Story:

Twice today, “V” was “rescued” by somebody who could out-talk the person who was persecuting him! Why does it have to be this way!

There is a book I read recently called **The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander.** The silent Bystander is as guilty of bullying as is the Bully.

Don’t be a silent Bystander. It only takes one person to say “No” to a Bully. Then, do the math:

1 Bullied 1 Person Who Speaks Up = 2 People

Suddenly, there is a Witness. Somebody who Cares. Bullies do not like this!

If you’ve never stood up before, start right away. Yes, it’s hard! That’s what learning courage is all about. Every time you stand up to your own fear, it gets easier the next time.

But, in the larger picture, with increased concern about how people with mental disabilities are treated by Portland’s public systems, maybe we should also be taking a look at how to address the problem of cruel discrimination they receive at the hands of the private sector.

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