Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.
I am not going to rant about the deaths of unarmed Black men and women, and unarmed men and women of color killed by police or those who have unnecessarily died in police custody. As someone who was once harassed by police, I need no convincing that this nation has a policing problem. (And I’m too exhausted with the campaigns for President of the United States to make any commentary about that.) Yet, as much as this nation has a problem about the often poor relationships between police and communities of color, I would add that it is dangerous to make or create a single national narrative about these relationships. We need several narratives and they need to be local. Let me give you a scenario that paints one local picture about where I live.
On that rare occasion when I have called police, I typically got a quick response. And I live in a 99.9% Black middle class Atlanta neighborhood. Typically, the only time the police are called on the street where I live is when someone has a dog that barks late at night (this usually requires a phone call to Animal Control, as well), or when some kids are playing music too loud and late at night; but none of this happens with any real frequency. Some homes are occupied by renters who often have to learn that some things are not tolerated in this subdivision. Now, one of the key differences about my subdivision’s relationship to police is that there is a small group of neighbors, all of who are homeowners, who regularly speak with police about anything they see as out of the ordinary. I also learned from these same neighbors to call the Non-Emergency Police Line and request that an officer come out to see you personally. You do this when you want a small matter handled without getting someone arrested. Let me give you an example.
A dog was barking continuously late at night. I rarely saw the pet’s owner because she worked odd hours. She was a renter, looked to be maybe twenty-something years old, but I did not know her, and I rarely saw her long enough to speak to her about the dog. A neighbor had placed a note in her mailbox about the dog, but nothing happened. I was awakened late at night and in the early morning to this barking dog for about two weeks. Every night he would bark, I would go look out my windows to make sure there wasn’t some stranger or some intrusive animal lurking around the house. I never saw anything. I called Animal Control, first.
Animal Control said call the police because the owner of the dog was violating a Noise Ordinance by allowing the animal to stay outside and disturb the peace after 10:00 PM. I called the Non-Emergency Police Line. The officer that answered the phone asked if I had contacted Animal Control. I told him that I had spoken with Animal Control, and then I asked him to send a police officer to my home so that I could speak with them. Because it was not an emergency, he told me someone would come by in about two hours. In roughly 45 minutes a police officer was pulling up in my driveway. I walked outside and spoke to the officer, and told him about the dog.
“What do you want me to do?” he asked. I said, “I want you to go over to her house and just tell her that she either needs to put the dog in the house at night or get the dog one of those collars that deters barking. Let her know about the Noise Ordinance law because she might not know this. I don’t want anyone cited for anything. I just need you to let her know that the dog is keeping people up late at night.”
The police officer did exactly what I asked him to do. He came back and told me he had spoken with the woman. Since all backyards on my street are fenced in, it is quite typical for pets to remain safely outside in one’s backyard during the day or night. I reasoned that because she worked odd hours, often at night, she probably never heard her dog creating a disturbance. That same evening before she left for work, she put her dog inside her house so the pet would not wake up her neighbors.
Now, what I did to resolve this small problem here in Atlanta might not work somewhere else. It might not even work in another section of Atlanta. In a different town or neighborhood, I might have been harassed (or possibly, shot) because I dared complain about a barking dog; and the police might not have even bothered to come out to speak with me or with my neighbor about what the police considered a trivial matter. In some scenarios, where you live matters almost as much as the color of your skin or the nature of the problem. However, too often the narratives or plans of action, come from national leaders who do not have a clue about the relationships between police and citizens in any particular neighborhood or town. Furthermore, what works in Atlanta might not work in New York City and then again it might work in New York City. Yet, Atlanta is not New York City is not Ferguson is not Baltimore is not Chicago, and etcetera.
Many powerful public voices are speaking out against police brutality and the need for more meaningful dialogues between the police and people in the communities the police are supposed to serve. They are right for doing so. Yet, many of those national and/or regional voices do not live where you and I live. In fact, many “so-called” local activists do not live where we live. Every Black person I know, knows of at least one activist minister who only visits a particular neighborhood to preach on Sunday, while that same minister no longer lives in the neighborhood where the church is located, but rather lives in some distant suburb. We all know at least one activist politician who is always speaking out about something that has gone terribly wrong in one of our communities. The problem is that minister or politician often never sets foot in the neighborhood in question until there is a problem or until it is election time. Their voices may be necessary, and much of what they have to say might be useful. Yet, they should not be the only voices defining the narrative about how to address these problems.
If you want to find out more about the police where you live, you can and probably should stop by a nearby police precinct and introduce yourself. You will find out rather quickly how cordial those police are to you in a few minutes. It never hurts when a few police officers know you as a law-abiding citizen that tries to look out for your neighborhood. Additionally, when there is a real problem in your neighborhood, you might get a much swifter response because of that relationship.
Yet, you should also carefully monitor and choose who should speak for you and your community. Whoever it is ought to know the lay of the land, how the people who live there interact with each other and with law enforcement officials. It ought to be someone that has a personal vested interest in where you live, not simply someone who shows up when a problem arises so that they can get some good press coverage. It ought to be someone who lives where you live.
Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.
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