There goes the neighborhood. Over the past month, there have been a string of break-ins in our neighborhood. It all started with a singular incident in which $14 was stolen from someone’s kitchen. When I heard the news, I was nervous. But it seemed like an isolated incident, and I brushed it off as teenagers, or possibly even residents of the house. But then, there were more. A string of homes was hit all in one night. In one home, one of the burglars was caught on a nanny cam. He remains unidentified. Our normally quiet subdivision was stunned, but my neighbors have been anything but silent about it. And my neighbors have made it really clear the type of neighborhood we live in:
The Houses Didn’t Ask For It
Whoever committed these crimes is, unquestionably, a criminal. Though the world seems to have lost its mind with the rapist on the Stanford campus, the simple true is this: you commit a crime, you become a criminal. I am continually gobsmacked by the number of people who still don’t understand that when crimes happen, it’s not the victims’ faults. But apparently they don’t. Just ask my neighbors.
As soon as news of the break-ins was posted, I was floored by the number of people who tried to blame my neighbors, not the burglar. It seems like one homeowner forgot to shut her garage door. A few other homes left laundry room doors and back doors in their fenced in yards unlocked for their college-age kids who come and go throughout the night. Another person locked his door but didn’t push it shut all the way. Instead of asking if everyone was OK, people in the crime and safety forum on NextDoor, a garrulous social media network for neighborhoods, immediately started leaving comments like, “This isn’t Mayberry, folks. Lock your doors” and “What do you expect?” Well, I’d wager to say that if they expected that leaving their door unlocked would lead to theft, they would have locked their door. But that’s just me.
Of course, an open garage or an unlocked door poses a security issue. But the fact of the matter is breaking and entering is a crime; forgetfulness or naivety is not. I am confident that these homeowners are rethinking every decision they made that evening, in addition to feeling majorly violated by the burglar. To feel betrayed and shamed by your neighbors is the last thing anyone should add to the mix. It’s not complicated: criminals commit crimes, not victims.
Do As I Say & What I Say is Scary
If you’ve followed the news at all in the past decade, you know that Chicago is having some serious issues with gun violence. That gun violence has spilled out into the suburbs and is growing at seemingly unstoppable pace. I can’t log on to any of my personal social media accounts–including NextDoor–without seeing pleas and memes and posts begging for solutions and condemning the violent offenders. They should be dealt with in the harshest way possible. Violence is never the answer.
Unless you’re my neighbor. Then, you find out that there has been a string of break-ins in your neighborhood, and you post an open invitation for the individual to enter your home that very next night: “Because when he does, he can ‘Say hello to my little friend.’” Now, I’m assuming this means he’ll shoot the intruder, but I suppose he could just want to show off his gun or run lines from Scarface. And this is where things get really scary for me. Yes, dear neighbor, I–and the rest of the world–understand that we will be unable to pry your gun of your cold, dead hands because it is your constitutional right to defend yourself and bear arms. You’ve posted the memes a thousand times. But where I get really frustrated is that you’re not just defending yourself. You’re posting an open invitation in order to have an excuse to be violent. My hunch is that comment was lined with false bravado and would never come to fruition, but the duality of that post and your previous calls for peace is unsettling.
Privilege Found, Burglar…Not So Much
Yesterday, I thought the apocalypse was upon us. There were so many police cars in my neighborhood that I was certain there was a zombie uprising and they had come to tell us that it was every man for himself. It turns out, though, that someone had called in a description of someone matching one of the cat burglars. Here’s what they saw: a tall black man. This tall black man was walking through people’s yards in broad daylight. What they forgot to tell the police was that this tall black man was wearing a vest, and he was walking through people’s yards because he was a meter reader hired by the village to, you know, read our meters.
I appreciate my neighbors wanting to be vigilant. I truly do. I still sleep fitfully. It is unnerving to have crimes committed down the street. But I also know that if this burglar has hit homes only between the hours of 2 and 3 am, it is highly unlikely that he will be strolling through our neighborhood in broad daylight. Especially since photos of him have been plastered throughout our city, social media, and newspapers. I’d also like to tell you that this meter reader debacle is a one-time incident, but last week, someone reported the Comcast man. Sure, he wore a uniform and drove a Comcast truck emblazoned with the Comcast logo. But he was a tall black man. And if you’re a tall black man, you’ve apparently lost the privilege of working in my neighborhood.
Here’s what I know: race and violence and privilege are complicated. While I don’t have the magic bullet to address any of these systemic issues, I do that if we don’t hold ourselves in check, ugliness unfolds in the most insidious ways. And fast. Just ask my neighbors. A $14 robbery took place, and I don’t know who to fear more: the criminal or the vigilantes next door.
Note: In less than 1,000 words, I hardly scratched the surface of so many of the different issues that are bubbling in my neighborhood and in many neighborhoods across the country. It was never my intent to oversimplify such lofty issues; instead, I wanted to share a personal connection. I would love to hear your own thoughts, insights, and experiences if you’re so inclined.