What Do Those Gates Protect?

by Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

In my previous blog The Persistence of Old Models / Old Beliefs I wrote about my meetings with theatre expert Paul Carter Harrison and our discussion about the problems with racial stereotypes.  Of course, the one thing about being a historian is that when you ask and address one question, other questions always come up.  So here goes.  I do not know about you, but I find something odd about the death of Trayvon Martin that has nothing to do with the actual shooting of the gun that killed him, but rather that the neighborhood that he was visiting that fateful night in February 2012 was a “gated community.”  Does anyone find it strange that there had been a rash of burglaries allegedly committed by young Black men in a “gated community”?  This issue may not ever come up in the actual trial of George Zimmerman, but exactly what or who were those gates in that Sanford, Florida community supposed to protect?

I live in what is technically a middle class/working class all-Black neighborhood.  My neighbors and I look out for each other.  On the very rare occasion that we see something or someone that we find strange or out of the ordinary, we call the police and let the police do their job.  Everyone has a fenced-in backyard.  A few homes have fences around the entire perimeter.  Many people have alarm systems installed, which is always a good idea because it is a real deterrent to break-ins.  There have only been a couple of burglaries that I can recall in the over forty years I have lived here, and at least one of those was committed by a couple of kids who were caught shortly after the break-in.  To my knowledge, there has never been a rash of burglaries; that does not mean that it cannot happen.  It just means that since the early 1970s, I have never heard anyone say, “We have got to do something about this rash of burglaries.”  This brings me to this whole idea about gated communities.

I have seen several gated communities.  In fact, I live less than two miles from an all-Black gated community.  The one obvious distinguishing characteristic is that no one can just walk in or out and no one can drive in or out without having some kind of code, a pass key, or something that says you live there or are visiting.  The closed perimeter is in place precisely to restrict the entrée of unwanted visitors.  So how is it that this gated community in Sanford, Florida has endured so many burglaries?  If the gates to this community remain closed, how did the thieves get in, burglarize a home or several homes, and then get out?  Did they jump a fence?  If so, exactly what did they steal?  The fact that you should not be able to drive in and out of a gated community easily limits the abilities of a thief or thieves, does it not?  I say this to raise something far more troubling about the entire area we all now know as Sanford, Florida.  First, allow me to comment on one unrelated event that happened to a friend.

A couple of years ago, burglars broke into the house of one of my friends.  The police quickly apprehended the thieves.  Yet the first thing the police noticed was that the thieves went into the house and cut the phone cords to the alarm system.  The police suspected that someone–probably there to do work on the home–who visited this house took note of where the battery and controls for the alarm were and passed along that information to the burglars.  Not long after this happened, I quickly encouraged everyone I knew to install a wireless cellular back up system to their existing alarm system so that it would immediately kick in should someone be brave enough to break-in and then cut the phone wires.  Now, I do not say this to make everyone think that the man that just delivered their refrigerator is automatically a potential suspect for a future burglary.  Most of us do not think of burglars or any other type of criminal in this manner.  Criminals always look like they are up to something, don’t they?  Yet, all those burglaries in that gated community in Sanford, Florida made me think about what happened to my friend.

If this neighborhood was having a string of burglaries, exactly how difficult was it for that community to request an increase in police patrols?  If a community has these gates, does that automatically mean that it needs fewer police or no police?  If you do not live in one of these communities and you visit one, doesn’t that mean that you or almost anyone visiting a gated community could be seen as suspicious?   We learned that George Zimmerman called 911 over fifty times during the course of a year.  If all of these phone calls were legitimate, then why did he need to call so often if he lived in a gated neighborhood?  Is it not fair to ask: Were all these burglaries committed by people who were not members of this neighborhood?  Do those gates really keep people out or do they seal people in?

Please read: Florida’s problematic gated communities by Bonita Burton

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

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2 thoughts on “What Do Those Gates Protect?

  1. I never cease to be impressed by your ability to look at issues that you are deeply affected by and passionate about with such wisdom and objectivity. I am referring here to both this and your earlier piece on Trayvon. I put off reading that piece for a while because I needed a break – every time I see a picture of Trayvon or hear someone talk about him it just makes me sad and angry beyond what I am capable of expressing with words.

    I always felt that looking at things without bias was a strength of mine, but every time I start writing my thoughts about Trayvon I find my emotions taking over and going places I know I would end up regretting. I know that his story affects you in ways I am not capable of truly understanding, yet you wrote the most thoughtful and unbiased piece I have read thus far.

    So as usual, thank you for sharing.

  2. Thank you so much Matt. I do know what you mean about the death of Trayvon Martin. I try to avoid it, but it just keeps coming back. I know what you mean about “taking a break” from this whole tragic episode in our nation’s history. It is a death that has taken its toll on so many of us. His death, I think, is a painful reminder of some larger problems that we all continue to face. I consider your comments a real compliment from someone so passionate about his students.

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