The now popular image of a New York police officer giving a barefoot homeless man a pair of boots has caused quite the sensation. The photo of the kind gesture circulated heavily and made both men famous. The officer’s name is Lawrence DePrimo. The other man’s name is Jeffrey Hillman. It was the kind of gesture that happens a lot but goes unnoticed. Fortunately, this particular time it did not. It made headlines almost immediately afterward.
However, the story has changed recently. The homeless man, Mr. Hillman has been spotted barefoot again. It’s cold in New York and being without any means of transportation, it’s safe to assume that he must walk to and from his destinations. So why on earth is he barefoot again? Was he a victim of violence?
Since Mr. Hillman’s bare feet became famous, other people reported seeing him without shoes — one even after Officer DePrimo’s gift — and one woman said she had bought him a pair of shoes a year ago. Whatever the case, Mr. Hillman seemed accustomed to walking the pavement shoeless.
No. According to Mr. Hillman, the boots are hidden because of their value. He said if he wore them, his life would be in jeopardy. I suppose a homeless man could hide a pair of boots in a alley some place but why would he want to in the dead of winter?
The $100 pair of boots that Officer DePrimo had bought for him at a Skechers store on Nov. 14 were nowhere to be seen.
“Those shoes are hidden. They are worth a lot of money,” Mr. Hillman said in an interview on Broadway in the 70s. “I could lose my life.”
He could also lose his life from sickness or lose his feet from frost bite.
These famous boots have taken on a life of their own. They have made both men celebrities for better or worse. The officer, Mr. DePrimo, did it out of an obligation to his duty and as a caring person. He received nothing in return but gratitude and appreciation. It was an act of kindness that happened to be captured in the moment. I doubt he wanted or needed the attention that came with it.
The other man, Mr. Hillman was grateful for the police officer’s concern.
“I want to thank everyone that got onto this thing. I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart. It meant a lot to me. And to the officer, first and foremost.”
However, all of the attention afterward is leaving him a bit unsatisfied.
“I was put on YouTube, I was put on everything without permission. What do I get?” he said. “This went around the world, and I want a piece of the pie.”
It appears Mr. Hillman has a history of losing his shoes and relying on the kindness of strangers. That isn’t an occupation. It’s not even a station in life. It’s simply breathing an occupying space. Do I mean to sound cold and callous? No, I don’t. But it shows that the character of people cannot be changed. This is a lesson that some people do not want help. They want handouts. The feel good part of the story has been removed from a candid statement by a man with street smarts.
As he was being interviewed, several people noticed him. “What happened to the boots?” one man asked.
It has been revealed that Mr. Hillman is an Army veteran and has a trade as a cook. He also has two adult children of whom he has no contact. Being a cook may not make him rich but it would give him more of a livelihood than living on the streets terminally barefooted.
*Officer DePrimo’s "piece of the pie" was a set of cuff links.