Saturday, March 24 , 2018, 6:44 am | Fair 43º


Ken Williams: Fear

Can you imagine the terror of being viciously attacked for no reason? Can we as a society abide in our midst the monsters who could do such things?

I would ask your indulgence for one moment. I would request of you to close your eyes briefly and imagine that you are at home — alone, sitting and enjoying a quiet evening, minding your own business. Then imagine two scruffy homeless men entering your domain and accosting you. One of the two men grabs a blanket that you’ve been using — you stand and try to retrieve it. One of these two guys picks up a bottle and smashes it against your head, causing your brain to swell, resulting in your death.

Article Image
Ken Williams and his dog, Sampson. (Williams family photo)

Try to imagine another time when, again, two or three homeless guys enter your house, and once again you are alone. They are upset with you. Maybe it’s the way you dress, in nice clothes that are washed. Or, maybe the way you smell of enticing perfume or sweet cologne. Who knows, it could be jealousy, or something that they thought you said or some obscure thing they think you stand for. Maybe they simply had a bad day, week or month. For all the reasons or no reasons at all they attack you, cowardly and viciously and beat you so badly that you die days later.

You don’t live in a violence-racked part of Los Angeles but in peaceful Montecito, Santa Barbara or Goleta. Perhaps your dying thoughts are: why me? These brutal homeless men didn’t even know you but they hated or feared you enough to kill you. Your last thoughts are of justice; at least the perpetrators will be brought to justice, that Santa Barbara cared enough to see these thugs pay for what they did.

Now open your eyes: It’s all just make believe. You are safe with no one hunting you. Unfortunately, for Ross Stiles, it was all too real. Two guys did in fact enter his camp and try to take a sleeping bag. Can you imagine the pain he felt when the bottle shattered against his skull, and the dull ache that slowly turned to excruciating pain as his brain swelled within the unforgiving confines of his skull?

What did Gregory Ghan feel when he was set upon by his killers? He was alone and defenseless. Feel the sheer terror he must have experienced as fists and feet brought killer blows down upon him. Perhaps he also wondered why these kids, privileged enough to have apartments or homes to go to at night find the hatred within their hearts to beat him so viciously and cowardly. And also, if Alan was set upon while sitting in his wheelchair, what kind of courage did that take of his attackers? He was a crippled man without a leg fighting depression. And I don’t even want to try to imagine the pain and helplessness Alex felt as his body burned. That is a pain no one should endure.

Fear is one of the most terrible emotions that we possess. It makes us shun reason and see things that are not there. Sometimes when I’m at meetings and people begin to express their uncomfortableness being around homeless people, I close my eyes and imagine I am just a typical American sitting with a like-minded group of individuals anywhere in our recent history. I can hear the talk of how encountering black men at night frightens us — or dark-skinned Latinos, or swarthy Italians or hot-tempered Irish-Americans. You supply the racial stereotypes, the “other.”

But then I open my eyes and realize it’s not really about them — the others, about walking at night while black; it’s us — about our own fears, and the fear of the unknown, especially of people different from ourselves. Maybe it’s the mentally ill person who talks to himself or herself; or some who may smell different, or perhaps dresses in dirty clothes. For sure it’s of poor people who are forced to sleep on the streets. Maybe it’s because their very existence challenges so many of our most cherished images of ourselves: Are we a compassionate people who strive to protect the weak? Or are we a predator nation that makes war on those different than ourselves? Are we a nation of laws with equality for all regardless of our station in life? Or do we let multimillionaire bankers desert sinking ships once their malfeasance has thrown thousands out of work and depleted hard-earned retirement accounts of workers, while we accept freedom for killers in our community?

Obviously I wouldn’t bother to write, to attempt to share the knowledge of poverty and the injustices inflicted against the poor if I didn’t know deep down in my heart that the citizens of my community do care. I think that basically we are a good people — that we don’t want murderers walking freely on our streets. Perhaps we may not always know what to do, how to enact change — but as a caring community, we must strive for justice for all of us. Ross and Gregory, and now perhaps Alan and Alex wait for that justice. As a community, we dare not fail them.


A kindly, frail veteran in his 50s is the 16th homeless person to die on our streets this year. Sixteen. For all of last year only 18 homeless people died.

— Ken Williams has been a social worker for the homeless for the last 30 years. He is the author of China White and Shattered Dreams, A Story of the Streets.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >