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The lesson in Terrence Jones' alleged harassment of homeless man

Photo: Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

Rockets forward Terrence Jones has pleaded not guilty to harassing a homeless man in Portland.

I've been an NBA fan for a long, long time. I've also worked with homeless people in Portland, Ore., and Seattle for more than 15 years.

When I read that Houston Rockets forward and Portland native Terrence Jones allegedly stomped on a homeless man's leg only one block from my office in Portland, my heart sank.

The alleged incident brought me back to a time several years ago when a friend and I witnessed a teenager kick a homeless man in a doorway in downtown Portland. After making sure that the man was OK, my friend and I chased the kid four blocks before he gave up and confronted us. We gave the kid two choices. We were either going to call the police, or he was going to have to go back and talk to the guy he kicked.

The teenager, scared and shaking, sat with all of us for the next hour talking about the realities of homelessness, including just how vulnerable people actually are. The homeless individual forgave the young man. The kid apologized profusely. They continued to talk and shook hands. It was a learning lesson.

As for Jones, he admitted that he yelled, "Wake up" to a homeless man sleeping in a doorway after leaving a downtown nightclub early last Wednesday. Jones, through his attorney, also said he tripped over Daniel Kellerher's leg and might have nudged him but denied stepping on him intentionally. Police said Kellerher sustained a minor injury that did not require medical attention. Jones, 21, pleaded not guilty to harassment. His next court date is Sept. 6.

No doubt the press, and the public, will crucify Jones. But waving a judgmental finger at Jones will do nothing to address the roots of homelessness and violence on the streets.

If all that happens in this situation is that a young man's career is tarnished and a homeless person is the victim of an unnecessary act, then ultimately nothing changes. Practicing non-violence takes effort and discipline. It's not just something that happens without teachable moments, especially for young men in America.

These unfortunate circumstances are not only a teachable moment for Jones but also for the general public. It's an opportunity for anyone who may have similar kinds of impulses to pause and think twice before harassing a homeless person, or anyone else for that matter.

Homelessness is a traumatic experience that leaves people vulnerable to violence, sickness and even death. Getting harassed or possibly assaulted while sleeping is something that no one should have to endure.

"I didn't do nothing," Kellerher told television station KGW on Thursday. "I was laying there sleeping. It was a shock, you know? Something like an electric fence went through me at that point in time.

"You know it don't feel good. It's hard. I just want to cry. It's just hard to talk about because it hurts. I didn't think anybody would ever do that."

I don't know Terrence Jones, but I do know the streets. I know that the NBA cares about the poor, and I also know what basketball means for people on the streets. Many people without a home look to their local basketball team as a vehicle of hope. There's not a day that passes during the regular season that people on the streets of Portland are not talking about the Trail Blazers.

Basketball transcends cultural and class lines and brings us together. We collectively root for our favorite players and/or teams, regardless of our economic circumstances. We rise and fall together as communities and sports fans, from the homeless man or woman sleeping in a doorway listening to the game on a wind-up radio to the family enjoying the action courtside.

Jones, the 18th pick in the 2012 NBA draft, can still have a long and fruitful career. I would love to see Portland, Houston and other NBA cities cheering for him instead of rooting against him. This is an opportunity for Jones to stand up and be a responsible person. It's a chance for him to educate himself on homelessness in his hometown of Portland and in Houston, where he'll face mounting scrutiny.

It's a chance for all of us to stand up and say that harassing homeless people is wrong. Homelessness and violence should never be accepted in our communities. Everyone deserves a safe place to call home.

Israel Bayer is the executive director and writer for Street Roots, an award-winning street newspaper in Portland, Ore. Follow @StreetRoots and @IsraelBayer on Twitter.

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