A brief social services story with no ending.

Hello from Denver. Our team is focused on our sister project, PubTrawlr, at the American Public Health Association conference. It’s been a great time, and we’ve met some really great and cool people.

This story isn’t about that. It’s about the walk home to our hotel after dinner.

While crossing the street, I noticed a man screaming and writhing on the ground. He was flailing his aims and legs, yelling that he didn’t have a cigarette and that he wanted to die. He punched himself hard in the face, over and over.

A bunch of people kept walking by. Yet something about this man seemed well outside “normal.” So, I called 911 and reported what I saw. I ended up staying on the line for 15 minutes at the urging of the dispatcher as the man got up and walked down the street. I tailed him on the phone as he continued punching and screaming, and yelling at passerbys.

Eventually, three police cars showed up, and the man ran off and down a different street. Instead of pursuing, the four cops stood in a circle conferencing. I went up to them and said, “Hey guys, I was the person who called 911.” One of the officers replied, “Oh this is daily occurrence. He always runs away, but he does take part of the social services around here”

And that was that. As I continued back to the hotel, I could hear “He stole my cigarette!” echoing a block or two over.

Maybe this was the right response to this event? There was clearly no violence or provocation from the cops. And yet, this poor guys was still out there, still [hallucinating?], still at potential for causing harm to himself. Surely, there is a better way?