Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Good w/ the 'Hood: Drugs! Arson! News at Six!

See: Diss-claimer
As reported in the first installment of this series, we had not lived in our new apartment for five days before two incidents of arson occurred down the street, caused by (or so we heard) a drug dealer who lived across the street. What apparently happened, (no, I was not there, so stick “alleged” in wherever appropriate):

The Incident
Two moms didn’t want drug dealing to go on in front of their children. So they called out a T.V. network. As they were complaining for video recording, the alleged dealer came out of his house, and one of the moms said, “Look, there he goes.”

The camera panned across the street to get a good look at the man she accused. That night, the station apparently aired the footage. The next night: fired houses, both families.

The Victims and Perp(s?)
Now here’s the thing nobody ever gets except the policemen or whoever adjudicates the dispute. When you read the above two paragraphs, you know who is “right” and who is “wrong.” Your reporter will rarely tell you that the person who’s right is frequently as hard to deal with as the one who’s wrong. And, I’m guessing, much more unpredictable. Drug dealer? Going to evade truth, capture or incarceration. Complainant? Could be anything from soup to nuts.

I never met that alleged drug dealer, or, not to my knowledge.  But I did meet the savior of the neighborhood. She was a contentious, loud-mouthed martyr with a baby stroller. That was how she was ALL the time.

Don’t get me wrong: she was right to fight against the drug dealing. It was terrible for her house to be burned down.  But I’m pretty sure one reason she got no action “before” the journalistic interest and the arson was that nobody wanted to hear her scream at them on the phone. She was not a listening kind of woman, or a woman who would wait for results.

Maybe that’s the kind of person it took to get a little action. Maybe somebody had to get a big fat horrible incident down for our neighborhood to get the “Red Alert” classification in a city that had a sky-high homicide rate. And, she lived in that house afterward, once it was repaired again. That takes guts too.

Neighborhood Watch and Community Liaison Officer
Well, of course we were concerned. I went to the “Neighborhood Watch” meeting which included a Catholic Priest (vics were Catholic, almost everybody there is) who gave a little prayer, the aide to the city councilman for that district (soon to run for that seat on City Council--and Win) and the various people who showed up. Except for the politician, they were all white from that mostly black neighborhood. Give you a hint: they were Ward Heelers for the district, too. (New in town? Let me tell you who to vote for, blah blah, wink, nudge.)  The rest were some of the “Ward Heeled”.  

There was also a policeman, the one who’s liaison for the public in these things, out doing his job: “Yes, the PD is very concerned. Yes, it will be a priority.”

We weren’t smart enough to ask for an action plan, or specifics, e.g., “There will be drive-throughs every five minutes, emptying police presence in all other at-risk neighborhoods, in order to keep this already-burned-down house from burning down again.”  If I had been the liaison officer, I wouldn’t give one anyway. I can just hear some guy with a stopwatch on the corner: “They only came by every eight minutes, not every five as promised. One time they were laughing. One time they were eating. This isn’t what we pay TAXES for!!!!!”

Besides, in this context, the liaison officer is preaching to the choir. Because, you know, none of us wanted to be burned out or otherwise harassed for the good of a bunch of drug dealers, am I right? Yeah, about that I’m right. Were we going to piss off the liaison cop? Not a chance. We were going to grab whatever feel-good life vest he handed us. We were Doing Something.

Not that I’m down on the liaison cop. The Neighborhood Watch was not a group of people working with their better nature. There were PLATITUDES. There was SHOCK. There was HORROR. There was DETERMINATION? Ah, sure, but not when it came to any Personal commitment.

Plus the smarmy political advice.  If that’s what we were going to get from Neighborhood Watch, I preferred to take my chances with the cops, the robbers, and the un-Watching Neighborhood Watch. Even the priest seemed a little too happily distressed to have this problem on his hands. Maybe he was hoping Disaster would turn the tide for his parish. That's what we all wanted: a turned tide.

Post-Neighborhood Watch
The Church assisted the two families. The husband of the louder woman was a sweet and gentle man with not much to say for himself—good thing, too, probably, or his house would have exploded long before Arson Night. The other woman who complained I met once: another sweet and quiet one. They got jobs at the church, and housing. That lasted about a year, and so, on the civilian side of the story, that made the Priest the real Hero. 

The main thing I remember was that the not-Neighborhood watch seemed to make the most sense: keep your head down, and the shit will eventually quit blowing. Or at least, waiting to ally with some group I liked, I ended up allied with the non-aligned.

But you know, the solidarity was reassuring in another way. When the ladies came by with their kids, they were neighbors I now knew. It didn’t take long for the main one to warm up, and soon she was confiding that I should never trust a person from  (a different suburb). That was a suburb she was from, she said, and she knew all about it—white trash, every last one. 

Life is never simple. Can I honor this woman for sticking up for the law, her family, and her neighborhood, and still see that her character was not completely admirable? Oh, yeah, you bet.

In case you’re keeping score, drug dealing was equal opportunity in that neighborhood—wouldn’t care to guess which race the perp was, because we had both, or, so many gradations of color, who knew?  Of the two households burned, its four adults, the loud lady was the white one from the untrustworthy suburb. Personally, I think her out-loud stance has less to do with color and more with the unresolved anger she had built up over a lifetime. I have a little extra information on this from a reliable third party, which I will not share.

So race comes up in this one, and for the chief complainant, I’m pretty sure it can be dismissed as a primary motivator. The Neighborhood Watch: now that did fall along racial lines. In my opinion, the whites thought they could agitate for police attention and flex power to change policy, but they didn’t really have any say about official activity—that’s what the Community Liaison Officer was for, to make our attention Seem Worthwhile. Basically, he worked to get clueless white folks off the backs of the beat officers-a kind of metaphorical "Crime Scene Tape". The blacks believed (I assume) agitating wouldn’t make a freaking bit of difference—yet it does. Both races were wrong. Both races were right.

There wasn’t any more arson. I don’t think neighborhood watch had anything to do with it. I think it had to do with the arson itself: it moved the complainants partly out of the neighborhood for a year. And probably the drug dealer had to lie low a little while. Maybe he was arrested. I don’t remember that.

Image: FreeFoto.com

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