Thursday, August 27, 2015

Suspicious Activity

Lately, bikes have been stolen in my neighborhood with increasing frequency.

A few days ago, this message came out on the neighborhood list serv:

Hi all,

I just wanted to let you all know that the bike stealing is continuing.  

On Saturday morning 7 am, someone went into our garage and stole 2 adult size mountain bikes. 

One black male was seen walking down my driveway by a neighbor with one of the bikes. 

We are not sure if there was an accomplice.   

The part I find most upsetting is that my children were awake by then and sitting in the living room when the brazen thieves snuck past.  

The police were notified. Keep everything locked folks! 


Neighbor #1

That message was followed by this response from another neighbor:

Neighbor #1,  

I am so sorry your bike was stolen. 

Please consider how you send out this message next time. 

If the purpose is to notify us to secure our personal items to prevent theft and alert us to crime in the area then just let us know that the bikes were stolen.  

If the purpose is for us to be on the look out for a specific person that may still be in the area then please have your neighbor convey more information about the person that he saw on your driveway. (For example, height, weight, clothing, any specific characteristics etc.) 

Writing "black male" is not helpful. It perpetuates the suspicion that is cast on all "black males" as criminals in our country and in our neighborhood. 

Let's not perpetuate these stereotypes in our neighborhood.  

I believe that we all have the potential to create a welcoming and inclusive community here.

Neighbor #2

Which was immediately followed by:



I obviously posted the message to let my neighbors know that the stealing of bikes is continuing to happen. 

And that is happening at times when most people are home. 

When our kids are home. 

Not only bikes that are left in the front yard, but that thieves are going into garages.  

I included the only information that I had about the person who stole from me. 

A person was seen, I described that person with the information I had. End of story.  

I would really appreciate it if my post would be seen as a notice to my neighbors to secure their stuff so that hopefully they are spared a similar incident, not a questioning of my character.   

Neighbor #2, if you have concerns about my post next time you are welcome to address me personally, privately.   

Neighbor #1

While I totally understand that neighbor #1 felt publicly shamed – or perhaps even publicly accused of being racist, I can’t help but wish she either didn’t respond at all or that she treated Neighbor #2 the way she wished she had been treated herself.  

I wish she had spoken personally and privately to neighbor #2. 

The messages that followed on the neighborhood listserv felt like a taking of sides.  

Support for neighbor #1 vs. support for neighbor #2.  

It felt divisive.

Admittedly, it didn’t go on for as long as it has in the past.

Like the time when an African American, male classroom aide at the local elementary school was sitting on the school grounds eating his sack lunch and the police were called. 

The debate that followed that incident went on for ages.

And it was ugly.

The call is always in response to a complaint about “suspicious activity,” which is a complaint our police chief has to take seriously.  

The problem is that the “suspicious activity” reported turns out to be the activity of being a person of color in this neighborhood.

My community, which was once extremely diverse, is becoming less and less diverse.  

The strong school system and welcoming nature of the place has attracted more and more families.  

Increasingly, the neighborhood's once uniformly small 1,200 sq. ft. bungalows are being torn down and replaced with 3,000 sq. ft. homes consuming the majority of the cozy lots on which they sit. 

The rise in property values is pushing out the elderly and the low-income members of the community that gave it the diverse feel that drew people to it in the first place.  

The process is circular and we, the residents, spin round and round.

What neighbor #1 might not have known, is that the husband of neighbor #2 is African American.  

In the not too distant past, he was taking a morning walk with a hot cup of coffee.  

It was drizzling outside, so he had the hood of his sweatshirt up.

The police were called.

“A man with a gun is roaming the streets of our neighborhood!” they were told.

The police raced to the scene to question neighbor #2’s husband.  

The gun? 

Was the coffee cup.  

Despite having committed no offense, he was required to show proof of residency.  

Our neighborhood isn’t gated.  It’s public space.  

Even if he wasn’t a resident, wouldn’t he have the right to walk on the public sidewalk?

Still, he had to prove he belonged here.  

I have never had to do that.

To believe that neighbor #2’s carefully worded request is an attack is to misunderstand her perspective and her experience.  

I don’t think she meant to suggest that neighbor #1 was a racist.  

I think she only hoped to remind us that just because the person that stole the bikes was a black male, we should remember that not all black men are "brazen thieves."  

I don't find that reminder offensive. 

Talking about race is hard.  

But it's important.


Jay said...

Yes it is important. Thank you for writing about this. I live in rural Australia where racism is often hidden because non-whites are so rare and our indigenous people often don't 'appear' black. But man o man, the current refugee debate puts racist views in the forefront. I have also been following the Black Lives Matter movement in the US via Shaun King. Thanks for writing again, I have checked in a few times over the years hoping you might return to your blog as I always found your writing engaging.