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It only takes one

April 19, 2012

Over the past few years, there have been a number of break-ins in my neighborhood.  I’m not sure how many, and I’m not sure how we compare to other neighborhoods, but yes, we do have break-ins.  So, much to my dismay, my neighborhood has started a “neighborhood watch.”  I say “much to my dismay” because I believe that, under the guise of community, togetherness, and “it takes a village,” community watches are essentially xenophobic organizations that want outsiders (“non-neighbors”) to stay out.

In Washington state, where people cherish the second amendment above all others, I do assume that many of the households in my neighborhood have guns.  Actually, I know that to be a fact, because when my son was growing up and playing with the neighborhood kids, I asked the parents of the children he visited if they owned guns, and they were very surprised at that question, and many said that yes, as a matter of fact, they do, and do I have a problem with that… I explained that I had a huge problem with that, because guns kill, and only potential killers would own a gun, and I suggested that they send their kids over to my house instead, where everyone would be safe, since we had no guns…  Yes, my son was somewhat lonesome growing up in this eastern suburb of Seattle, Washington’s liberal bubble.

So my neighbors have guns, and our neighborhood has a neighborhood watch.  This does not make me feel safe at all.

The neighborhood was all excited last summer, because in the wake of a few break-ins, they got the sheriff to come talk to us, and one house hosted an evening to discuss our safety.  I remember my disgust at the email that went out to the neighborhood list, the host was so so, soooo honored to have a sheriff speak at her house.  “Security!”  Men in uniform with guns!  All I could think of was “potential killers.”  Come on, the Seattle Police Department is notorious in the entire country for its trigger-happy racist pigs, and we were going to learn a few lessons from them?  Naturally, I did not attend the meeting, complete with hot dogs and, I kid you not,  red-white-and-blue drinks.  They had decided to make a block party of it!

At that party, which I did not attend, the sheriff told my neighbors that some of the door-to-door solicitors that come around every now and then are actually using this solicitation as a front to scope out our houses.  Do we have a big dog?  Does it look like someone lives alone?  Are we out during the day?  Then the break-ins happen.

I am not necessarily going to dispute this.  We do have door-to-door solicitors, and we do have break-ins, and maybe some of the solicitors are just scoping us out.

But here’s the deal.  We get Girl Scout cookies.  And Boy Scout cookie dough.  And Jehovah’s Witnesses.  And inner-city youth selling magazine subscriptions.  At that block party with the sheriff, it was determined that the inner-city youth selling magazine subscriptions were the culprits.  They are black.

And now, for the past two days, the neighborhood has been abuzz again with the fact that we are getting the door-to-door solicitors.  That greatest threat, the door-to-door solicitors of the most dangerous type:  black youth.  And everyone is sending emails warning everyone else about them.  Saying “Take pictures, they’ll come in handy when we need to identify the burglars.”  I understand that was the sheriff’s advice.  If a crime happens, we would have a collection of photos of young black men to pick from.

I sent an email, explaining that my experience with these young men was very different.  When one of them came to my door a while back, I talked to him at length, and found out that, in addition to the tiny percentage he gets out of selling the magazine subscriptions, he also gets to build up his resume and learn social skills (including that very useful one, how to talk to the hostile middle-class).  I bought two magazine subscriptions, and received them for an entire year, until my subscriptions expired.  So I know this young man wasn’t a fake, his gig wasn’t a front.  On the other hand, I paid upfront for cookie dough from a Boy Scout (I know, I know), and never received it.  But no one is suggesting we take pictures of the (white) boy scouts.  Or the (white) Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I got a response to my email:  “I’m glad your experience was positive, but we have proof that one of the supposed magazine sellers did break-in, so I don’t trust any of them.”

Not one to give up easily, I insisted that we must not assume that all poor people trying to make a living are criminals, because one person who passes for such happens to be.

Another response, from another neighbor:  “I don’t trust any unwarranted solicitor. If 1 in 5 are bad you are going to be sad about the 1 bad one. Anything short of this attitude is going to set yourself up for trouble. Please continue to take pictures. Thanks to everyone in the community!  I feel more safe.”

Well I don’t.  My response:

“My word of caution comes from a desire not to have a tragic incident here similar to Trayvon Martin’s killing by an overzealous neighborhood watchman.  It also only takes one such person, in an entire neighborhood, and I would not feel comfortable, not reminding us of that fact too.”

Ugh, I seriously hate neighborhood watches.


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  1. I agree! great post!

  2. I expected some angry emails from the neighborhood list in response to my word of caution, but all I got is absolute silence. I wonder if they somehow decided to remove me from the list? Or maybe i left them speechless? I hate suburbia.

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