Across North Minneapolis a wave of signs are popping-up in various neighborhoods.
They proudly declare “WE WATCH, WE CALL” under the by-line “For Safe Neighborhoods” and carry the logo for the 4th Precinct CARE Task Force. http://wewatchwecall.com/
I applaud the desire to help bring community members together and I support efforts to fight crime. I have worked for over 20 years to help make my neighborhood a safer (and friendlier) community. My wife and I frequently Watch and Call. However helping to create a strong community needs more than threats to call the police, consider the statement one North Minneapolis resident posted on the “We Watch We Call” web site.
“I’ve seen a number of these signs pop-up in the neighborhood, and I can’t help but notice that, with few exceptions, they are in white homeowners yards. “We call” obviously conveys “we call 911″ and that the police are on our side. The message, as simple as it is, draws a line in the sand and puts more then just ‘criminals’ firmly on the other side. It puts anyone with hesitation about police involvement in a threatened position. Regardless of how outstanding much of the 4th precinct police force is, you can’t ignore 1) the historical abuse of power of police in Minneapolis and nationwide against the black community and 2) the recent cases of police abuse specifically in Minneapolis. These signs are nothing more then a threat of police power, a firm acknowledgment that there is a division in this community, not unity. Consider a rewording that conveys that we engage with our neighbors, we know the kids down the street and we can call their parents when they are being too loud, that we are a unified community and neighborhood.”
I wondered why I felt uncomfortable about the signs when I first saw them, now I’m able to articulate it. I agree with this letter writer. The signs are about a threat, not an invitation to community, they are about sustaining divisions, not about creating unity.
Over the years we have learned the best crime fighting technique is to get to know the names and faces of your neighbors, and for them to learn that you are a neighbor and desire to be a friend who respects them and expects to be respected in return. When that isn’t possible and crime is occurring – call the police! I usually call 911 two – three times each month, however I talk to neighbors (and may even confront the behavior of potential criminals) daily.
Yet, many of the new wave of gentrifying North Minneapolis folk seem to be so afraid of their neighbors they call police when they should just walk out the door and be a neighbor! I say that because last summer that was the problem on our block. This crisis of relationships was somewhat resolved when “concerned homeowners” and the “problem” youth met face to face and the parents of the youth said “here is my number, if my kid disrespects you call me – don’t just peek out the window and call the police.”
There is already enough sense of separation and isolation in our community; there are already enough “one glance judgments” (a.k.a. stereotypes and prejudice). I don’t believe signs that pit the people in their homes against people on foot or in their cars will help us create a better neighborhood. I’m not advocating for foolishness, I’m just saying “Be a neighbor, not a threat.”