They Should Live Where You Live

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait,” Copyright © 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.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.




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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Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.