Sunday, March 21, 2004

My 8th Grade gym teacher was right ...

... I'm just an "instigator" (I had to go look it up the first time she said it).

Just now I couldn't stop myself from (possibly) stirring up more trouble on our neighborhood crime e-mail list. (I had sort of instigated a minor kerfuffle there last month over reports of "suspicious" people in the neighborhood.)

This morning I had followed a link from another blog (thanks Southpaw) to this article in the Dallas Observer about what happened to a "suspicious" guy in one Dallas suburb. So of course after I read it I had to e-mail the link to the neighborhood crime list, where people are reporting just about everything that happens as "suspicious." I did add that I was sure nothing like that would ever happen around here (I was being sarcastic, but I'm sure most of the people on the list won't pick up on that).

To be sure, we do get a fair number of break-ins, car thefts and the like (we're on our third leaf mulcher in two years, the first two having been stolen from our backyard shed). But our neighborhood is the kind of place where lots of people pass through the streets and alleys on foot, and some of them aren't always as well-heeled (or as white, it seems) as many residents would prefer. And I actually think the neighborhood crime list, with all its good intentions, feeds residents' hysteria about the mere possibility of crime and makes them more prone to suspicion. At times the list will go quiet, and then someone will post about a "suspicious black male," and all of the sudden three or four other people are saying they saw a "suspicious black male" as well.

Recently there was a spate of posts about a black guy who was going door to door fund-raising for some church group. That's perfectly legal here as long as you have some sort of certification or license from the city, and the guy either showed or offered to show it to one resident (who called the police on him and reported him to the list as "suspicious"). After that post, several other people posted that the guy had knocked on their doors as well, and they dutifully called the cops and reported him as "suspicious," too--particilarly because he was knocking on their door after dark (which will continue to fall early in the evening until Daylight Savings time kicks in).

Now I have no problem with people keeping an eye on things in the neighborhood and looking out for their neighbors (we routinely share "vacation duty" with neighbors, letting each other know when we will be out of town. I'll walk around outside of vacationing neighbors houses just to make sure no one has broken in or attempted to.) But too much suspicion and fear is just a bad thing--it makes people so afraid of people and situations that they turn their homes and neighborhoods into fortresses and don't want to come out. It makes me think of Kitty Genovese, who in 1964 was murdered in Queens while neighbors who heard her cries for help for almost an hour (the attacker fled and returned twice during that time) did not even even call the police until after the attacker finally finished her off.

Of course nothing like that would ever happen around here ...

No comments: