Be­fore call­ing cops, we should get to know our neigh­bors bet­ter

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - NATALIE Y. MOORE @na­tal­iey­moore Natalie Moore is a re­porter for WBEZ.org

Ican count the num­ber of times I’ve called the po­lice. Ac­tu­ally, I can’t, which leads me to think I’ve rarely di­aled 911.

Beck­on­ing the po­lice is a last re­sort for me. Im­mi­nent dan­ger is the stan­dard, not in­con­ve­nience.

When I lived in Bronzevill­e, a neigh­bor­hood wrestling with class is­sues among its Black res­i­dents, my condo neigh­bors no­ticed some guys sit­ting in front of the red brick build­ing. The men did not live there but weren’t dis­turb­ing any­one.

Some­one sug­gested we call the po­lice in­stead of just ask­ing them to move. I ob­jected. We did not sum­mon the po­lice, likely be­cause the men eventually am­bled on.

Right be­fore Min­neapo­lis po­lice killed Ge­orge Floyd, a Black man, a white woman in New York, Amy Cooper, weaponized her tears by call­ing the po­lice on a bird-watch­ing Black man in Cen­tral Park. The sit­u­a­tion didn’t end in tragedy or a hash­tag, but it could have.

We’ve seen Black peo­ple die for liv­ing-while-Black.

A na­tional con­ver­sa­tion fi­nally is tak­ing place in this coun­try about po­lice bru­tal­ity. Long­time ac­tivists dis­miss ef­forts at po­lice re­forms as a pit­tance and want to de­fund de­part­ments, in­clud­ing in Chicago. Oth­ers po­lice crit­ics, though, be­lieve that bad-ap­ple of­fi­cers can be tossed out like com­post, im­prov­ing rather than re­ject­ing the in­sti­tu­tion of polic­ing.

But all of us, as it turns out, must re­flect on our re­la­tion­ship to the po­lice.

My for­mer Bronzevill­e neigh­bors didn’t want to ap­proach the guys lean­ing on our fence out of fear. Liv­ing in com­mu­ni­ties be­set by vi­o­lence stokes that trep­i­da­tion. On that same block, there had been a mur­der one night in front of a grey­stone where drug deal­ers sold on the stoop. The po­lice ar­rived with yel­low tape as the body bled in the street.

What we did next, though, could be a les­son in ef­fi­cacy. We formed a block club, con­tacted the man­age­ment com­pany of the prob­lem­atic build­ing and in­vited ev­ery­one to clean up the streets and va­cant lots. Prairie Av­enue didn’t need the po­lice to mend the block.

Ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing Black peo­ple, must ques­tion whether we call on the po­lice too quickly as a kind of nui­sance-re­moval ser­vice. No one wants neigh­bors par­ty­ing late all the time, but is call­ing the po­lice the right re­sponse — know­ing how that could melt into tragedy? Is the drama of sirens and blue lights worth it for a bark­ing dog?

Con­fronta­tion in the mo­ment isn’t a great idea, but an al­ter­na­tive might be to ring the neigh­bor’s door­bell the next day or send a gen­tle let­ter de­void of pas­sive-ag­gres­sive­ness.

Bot­tom line — we need to get to know our neigh­bors, which we can’t do if we’re al­ways re­treat­ing into our homes and whip­ping out our phone to call the po­lice. We can’t build com­mu­nity if we don’t know our neigh­bors.

Call­ing on the po­lice to in­ter­vene in ev­ery­day nuisances is a hos­tile ap­proach at best, deadly at worst. And it con­trib­utes to a cul­ture of polic­ing in so­ci­ety — the way we judge peo­ple based on things like cloth­ing, hair and spend­ing. I’ve been guilty. Most of us are.

Last year, I called the ac­tual po­lice for an­other mat­ter on Prairie Av­enue, this time 25 blocks south of my for­mer Bronzevill­e condo. We had a fam­ily two-flat in which un­wanted res­i­dents were il­le­gally shel­ter­ing in­side. We had tried ev­ery­thing — let­ters, lawyers, vis­its, rea­son­ing, phone calls. The un­wanted res­i­dents, who did not have a lease or pay rent, re­mained on the property as un­yield­ing as dan­de­lions.

One day my mother and I went over to the two-flat to clear out some items, hop­ing for the best. The front and back doors were open. A tele­vi­sion blared. It was dark. No way were we go­ing into that.

I called the po­lice. Two of­fi­cers ar­rived, and I held my breath as they drew their guns and en­tered. When they came back out, they said the build­ing was clear.

I sighed a dou­ble sigh of re­lief.

CALL­ING ON THE PO­LICE TO IN­TER­VENE IN EV­ERY­DAY NUISANCES IS A HOS­TILE AP­PROACH AT BEST, DEADLY AT WORST. AND IT CON­TRIB­UTES TO A CUL­TURE OF POLIC­ING IN SO­CI­ETY — THE WAY WE JUDGE PEO­PLE BASED ON THINGS LIKE CLOTH­ING, HAIR AND SPEND­ING. I’VE BEEN GUILTY. MOST OF US ARE.

ASHLEE REZIN GAR­CIA/SUN-TIMES

Chicago Po­lice of­fi­cers run north­bound in the 1800 block of South Cen­tral Park in Oc­to­ber.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.