I was intending all day to write about the neighborhood meeting
I went to Thursday night. There's been an uptick in crime in my neighborhood lately ... well, violent crime, or at least there have been two shootings in the last month and people find it worth talking about. I for one noted an increase in the "skank" factor of my neighborhood this summer. I blamed most of it on the guy in the corner getting into the drug business, which he finally laid off about two months later.
What I noticed during the last year (much of which I spent unemployed, and for that reason sitting at home looking out the windows at life on the street) was that the cops are damn slow to repsond to complaints. There was a car parked on the block for about six weeks with flat tires. The parkign cops should have done something about it, and yeah, they ticketed it (after two weeks), but then nothing. I called it in twice, to no avail. Finally some cop came by and I found out the car had been stolen and abandoned. Why didn't the ticket the parking cop issued synch up with the stolen car database?
But that was just the start. Over the ten months I spent at home, I noticed that the cops basically just didn't respond to my complaints. When I finally sent out an angry bunch of letters to City Hall, I got responses from elected officials saying they'd tell the police. When the police got in touch, they said I needed to figure out how to deal with it myself. It was my job to organize the neighborhood to deal with crime. It was pretty odd because I always thought it was the cops' job to deal with crime, not mine, and that if there were crime problems they were supposed to come by and handle it, not me. When I started feeling really nervous about the situation, my ass got totally out of whack when one of the cops I talked to said, "Yeah, buying a gun would be a good idea." What is this, the wild west, where vigilante justice is supposed to rule?
Anyway, the meeting seemed to have some good reasons for happening, and it was really cool to walk into a room and see the black and the white people in this neighborhood were finally getting together (it sure never happens at neighborhood council meetings). The organizers had some solid stuff to talk about. They wanted to get solid information on what was happening throughout the neighborhood, organize us to operate together, and generate specific recommendations they could take back to elected officials.
But what happened in my mind was a total nightmare. We started out getting specifics about areas of crime, but then it degenerated into what I saw as blacks hating whites racism. "These problems are caused by the economic injustices of the racist system." "The people that moved in here want to get rid of the black people and make it an all-white neighborhood." "There are helicopters flying overhead spraying peoples houses to mark which ones are owned by blacks and which ones are owned by whites."
There was obviously a ton of bad blood between the black residents and the police. I'm not surprised, given the Seattle police department's regular murder of black men guilty of Driving While Black or minor infractions that under no circumstances would warrant getting shot. And the Sidran-era set-ups of Oscars (they asked for help getting rid of drugs, so the cops set up drug busts inside then tried to close the restaurant down for being a nuisance) and expropriation of property where drug deals had taken place is inexcusable. There were more good issues brought up, but I'll skip them to say ...
I felt like by coming there I was being pointed out as part of the problem. But what was utterly pathetic was that I heard speaker after speaker talk about these really big issues that weren't going to get solved immediately, perhaps not for years. So you want a job training center and more black-owned businesses. Are either of these things going to reduce the number of hookers and crack dealers hanging around outside Cherry and 23rd? Not really. I could see the neighborhood spinning its wheels, hashing out the same arguments it's said over and over, and doing nothing to get together to deal with the problems right in front of it. Sure, if you teach a starving man to fish you can feed him for a lifetime but that doesn't help if he drops dead before the fish bite.
The way I see it, this kind of divisiveness plays right into the Seattle police force's attitude to let crime fester in our neighborhood and do nothing about it. They tell people who call in crimes, "You know where you were moving to!" I think they figure if the black folks don't want the cops around they can just deal with the mess they made for themselves. And I think the black folks who point their fingers at people like me and say we are part of the problem are idiots. Since when is living in safety something that only white folks should be able to enjoy? But they'd rather talk about race than talk about the immediate problems we are facing and just ignore the way all of Seattle has become so very expensive in the last 10 years.
On the way out I did get to talk to some more black folks (two women, middle aged) and they seemed to have their heads screwed on way tighter than the nutcases who were grinding their axes earlier. And they agreed with me about a theory I've had for a year or so. One of the main problems white folks have dealing with black folks is that they don't know how to "read" them. Like me - I can tell the difference between a regular joe and a troublemaker right away ... if they're white. I think that white people have a hard time "getting the feel" for black folks. In some cases, that means you'll hear black people taking advantage of this to say, "You don't like me because you're a racist," when the fact is that you are just reading their behavior in a very different way than they would. One of the women used the example of how she was talking to me very energetically, but for a cop, it would read as her being really angry. They thought that cultural sensitivity training was the way to go. I'm not sure how to deal with this issue, but I'm convinced that as if my neighbors spend more time with each other they'll understand each other more. And I'm convinced I'm starting to understand very well who's just hanging out doing their thing and who's a troublemaker.
Anyway, I'm going to do a story on this for the neighborhood newspaper, trying to report the positive but not ignoring the heavy, heavy negative that I saw in this meeting. I did get an update on the park near my house from Richard Conlin, the only city official I saw there. This is what I think is going to be my new issue, but I just don't know how much of this heavy handed anti-white hatred I can handle, especially because it draws so much energy and attention away from actually getting solutions to the immediate situation in place. I'm glad the people that were moderating were black, because I'm guessing if there was a good space for someone to be handling all of this angry energy and not feeling personally attacked, it would have to be some space where I do not exist, a space I have not been trained to understand. I can organize people and help get things together to get changes going, but I cannot deal with people who hate me simply because I bought a house in this neighborhood. If that's where their anger is focused, I just think they are denying their own racism, plus they're not doing a thing to make their neighborhood a safer place to live.
I'll write tomorrow about the ballet we went to see last night. We've got a big day of tiling tomorrow and I need some sleep.