Ellen Thomas
P.O. Box 27217
Washington, D.C. 20038
(202) 462-0757
December 27, 1989

Letters to the Editor, Washington Post
15th & L NW, Washington, D.C. 20038

Re: "Drug Purchase for Bush Speech Like "Keystone Kops"
(12/13/89); "...And Keith Jackson's Trial" (12/17/89)

Dear Editor:

In Tracy Thompson's December 13 Metro article and in Richard Cohen's December 17 editorial there were brief mentions of a "homeless" woman who reared up in front of the DEA agent's camera, foiling the government's film of the carefully staged, one-of-a-kind drug deal with a dumb 18-year-old kid. By Presidential request Keith Jackson was lured to Lafayette Park. He was saved by a woman's demand for respect.

I hope it was respect for the woman's privacy rather than lack of interest that kept journalists from probing further into the identity of the mystery woman, deus ex machina in this Republican farce.

Betty (for such is the lady's name) has been the pin-up favorite of D.C.'s homeless photographers for at least a decade. Her life has adorned the walls of the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian, CCNV's calendar, and countless tourist and news photos and videos. Betty's face and overloaded shopping cart are famous. But few people care to know her name.

Betty is a victim of deinstitutionalization.. She can be seen standing on street corners quietly waiting for someone to give her money for coffee. She's the body inside the bundle of blankets and plastic heaped on the sidewalk we'11 into the afternoon. She sleeps late because her nights are torn by fantasies and fear. Sometimes her screams bounce from wall to wall over Lafayette Park all night long.

People avoid Betty. She smells bad. She often can't make it to a bathroom in time. She's afraid to bathe in shelters where her property is likely to be stolen. Kindly folk occasionally stop by to give her food, hot chocolate, another blanket, but rare is the person who listens to her problems, and rarer still are those who will take her into their homes.

The demonstrators who maintain the 24-hour-a-day Peace Park vigil outside the White House know Betty well, and occasionally arrange sanctuary for her. On Christmas Eve friends of the vigil took Betty inside for a scrubdown, then drove her to New Jersey where her four grandchildren and her daughter greeted her as another child. So Betty is out of camera's way for a few months, or weeks, or days, until the call of D.C, pulls her back and we see her limping, once again, through the "President's" park.