[The Stories of America editors: This article is part of the Public Service Pairing. To read the other story, click here.]
Many years ago, former South Florida Deputy Ed Alvarez stood outside of a multi-million dollar home in Weston, Fla., after responding to a domestic disturbance call.
In front of him, a husband and wife shouted at each other about who was going to take the child car seat, sitting on the pavement next to them.
“These two affluent, intelligent adults were arguing over it as if it was the child itself,” Alvarez said. “They were brought down to instinct. It’s the same type of argument that can take place at an apartment where the people make in a year what this family made in a day.”
Now retired, Alvarez said those types of moments were some of the most interesting parts of his police work — seeing people in what he calls the “backstage” of their lives rather than being “onstage” in the public.
Alvarez said he saw people on their worst days, whether it was a sleeping homeless man who had to be removed from a building or a CEO whose company assets were being seized.
And there’s something all of those encounters had in common, Alvarez said — when we’re at our lowest points, education and background go out the window, and we all behave similarly.
“When we’re at our worst, we’re all the same,“ he said. “People are always putting a facade on, but not in their homes. You see the basis of people, and it would surprise you.”
But while the reaction to hardship may be common across all social and economic statuses, Alvarez isn’t sure everyone experiences equal punishment.
“When you arrest a guy who’s got money for a DUI, he’s going to have a bad night and go to jail,” Alvarez said. “But his result in the long run will be better than someone who can’t pay for a good attorney or for his car to get towed.”
He said all of the evictions, arrests, restraining orders and more that he carried out throughout his career opened his eyes to how a large number of people unfairly struggle.
“Even rich people can be stupid and act like idiots and children,” he said. “But their lot in life was drawn at one point, and they were given an advantage. It’s society’s job as a whole to even things out, but we do a horrible job at that.”
This is why he worries about how the country is moving forward — he says the reality is people are worried so much about what’s going to happen to them that they’re not thinking about what’s best for everybody as a whole.
“There’s really nothing united about the states of America,” he said. “Everyone has their own desires and needs. Things good for people in South Florida might not be what’s best for people in North Florida.”
He wishes that people would think about the general good, as that would make things a lot easier.
“Each one of us, we’re responsible for the other person’s welfare,” he said.