Friday, March 14, 2008

Crime, Fear and Community Reality

Crime in the streets unsettles a neighborhood.

We've lived in inner city East Dallas since 1999. For the most part our eclectic community has been free of crime, especially the violent sort. A few petty thieves, the normal run of drug mules and low-level dealers, gangs in the park--that sort of crime.

But now we have a ring of thugs who are smashing in front doors when people are at home. The latest wave of crime is very violent, incredibly brazen and very disturbing because of what appears to be the desperate nature of the criminals.

A couple of nights ago we observed the latest, and by far the clearest, evidence of the serious nature of what's going on here in our neighborhood. A block over from our street the police set up a check point. I don't think I've ever seen one in a residential neighborhood here before.

They were stopping every car and pedestrian moving up or down Fitzhugh Avenue between Junius and Worth Streets. Their purpose: to establish a visible presence in our neighborhood to send a clear signal to the "bad guys" that they needed to go away.

I'll have to admit that it made me feel good seeing them out there in full force. Must have been 6 or 7 squad cars and a full contingent of officers stopping cars, talking to everyone and letting everyone know they were here to stay, at least for a while. What we observed was obviously a well-planned "operation."

As I thought about it, my mind turned toward another neighborhood located in far South Dallas.

It is a very poor community. Crime has been widespread and expected in this area for a long, long time. The neighbors are working hard these days to turn out even a fraction of the police presence we observed in our area this week. I know because some of my friends and work associates are deeply involved.

Our neighborhood is poor, but not as poor as the South Dallas community I have in mind. Ours is very mixed, diverse in about every way. The South Dallas area is all minority and extremely poor, populated mostly by renters. The crime there is much worse, just as violent or more so than our recent eruption, and enduring to the point of being a community tradition.

The desires of the vast majority of the residents of both communities are clearly the same.

We want safe, clean, healthy, kid-friendly neighborhoods.

A few bad apples attempt to ruin it for both areas.

Sadly, the public response to these problems is quite different from one neighborhood to the other.

These differing responses speak clearly to the sorts of problems we still face here in Dallas.

Unfortunately, race, class, income, property values, home ownership rates and reputation still carry far too much weight in terms of how our city invests its limited public safety resources. And, I'm convinced it is the same in many other aspects of our public life and how we divide our assets.



Justin said...

I understand what you're getting at.

We just moved onto North 2nd Street here in Nashville. For the last year, most of the violent crime, as well as non violent drug crimes have occurred on this street. But middle class white folks are just starting to move in, and all the sudden, the police make their presence a priority. I feel for those that live in the Napier area, and other areas of the city that have not begun regentrification, and so do not get the increased police presence.

However, I am fairly happy with what is occurring here now. In the last week, an undercover operation came to fruition and those that have been selling drugs on the street corners were taken into custody. I would say half of the 18 lived on my new block. Those that have violent and lengthy records were taken to jail, but those who had no previous record, or at least a non violent one are being required to meet with counselors and clergy, and given a second chance. The city has realized that incarceration isn't the answer to the problem, helping people get the skills they need to make it without selling drugs is the solution. And that's the direction that I'm proud to say Nashville is moving in.

c hand said...

Whether or not incarceration is the answer, may depend upon the question. The guys I knew that were in prison had mad skills. Incapacity was not their problem.

Karen said...

My daughter's neighborhood, which is straight up suburban and I would say relatively affluent (also E. Dallas) had the same sort of break-in this week. No police presence though, although neighbors are talking to each other about it.

Anonymous said...


With, as you say, limited resources, what do you think the police should do about inner city neighborhoods in South Dallas? I'm guessing your neighborhood's break-ins got the attention of the police precisely because they're different, unusual, and very visible. So, in a neighborhood where such things are sadly common place, what in your view should the police do?

Larry James said...

Anon 4:51 P.M., good question. The real solution likely doesn't begin with the police, but with an organized neighborhood. Once neighbors get organized, the police seem to respons more quickly. But that is hard work and difficult to accomplish in severely distressed communities. The police could help the neighborhood organizations by exerting more presence on the streets and by working with these community groups to present a united front against the thugs. It is a chicken or the egg deal in many parts of Dallas. Bottom line in my veiw: neighbors shouldn't wait on police, but get organized today.

carolyn said...

An organized neighborhood is SO important! We live in a federal "Weed and Seed" area of Dallas (East Dallas) and the police helped us form a neighborhood program. It all started because neighbors were sick and tired of being afraid of walking down their own streets. They contacted their city councilman and got the ball rolling. It has been great to get to know our neighbors and see positive change take place. Our weekly crime stats for our neighborhood are declining. The best part is we are making great friends with our neighbors - black, white, and hispanic.