TUSTIN, Calif. - When TyRon Jackson saw the man in a white van, he immediately recognized him as someone who he helped at the beginning of the pandemic.
He had found him a room in a local motel, for a little over a month, and even contacted his family.
“I remember how happy he was that his mom and dad were driving down to see him” says Jackson, the man behind Operation Warm Wishes, which for years, has been helping homeless people, disaffected teens, and anyone who might need help.
“I said hi!," he adds, seeing the man with cut hair, cleaned up and seemingly, doing well.
That’s when he explains, the man said “shut the f’ up!”, proceeding to unload a racist, derogatory stream of insults.
Surprised, and somewhat rattled, Jackson turned on his phone to tape the diatribe, turning on the selfie view, instead of the man.
But his obviously surprised, even hurt, face, says more than he ever could about how much the insults hurt.
Jackson grew up in motels, bullied by Orange County kids for his color and sexual orientation.
“I hated myself” he explains, and it wasn’t until he learned to see himself in a positive light, that he decided he’d help others do the same.
Before COVID, he worked all day as a behavioral interventionist with Tustin Unified, and worked all afternoon and well into the night, serving homeless people, youth, families, veterans and senior citizens.
You may have seen him handing out food, or helping people get free laundry machines, handing out vouchers for motels, and more.
He has not seen the man in question since he left the motel, back in April, and insists there was nothing argumentative about their last meeting, which is why he is so surprised at what happened…. and hurt.
Tustin Police Chief Stuart Greenberg is baffled, and upset, saying, “Tustin is not a place where this happens, and we will not tolerate racist behavior like this."
They are looking into the incident.
One thing is freedom of speech, says the Chief, another is hate speech, which can be used as an enhancement when someone makes threats, for example.
The bigger picture, though, is the angry behavior that both law enforcement and those working in charity work are seeing, and not only in Tustin.
Social media is overwhelmed with angry, unyielding commentary, especially with the election right around the corner.
“It has to stop,” says Chief Greenberg, “otherwise, I worry about our society as a whole."
Jackson adds,“At some point, people have to understand that words matter, they can inspire, or they can hurt people."