Monday, August 27, 2007

Violence in Byrd Park produces ripples of turmoil

My email box has been flooded with Byrd Park neighborhood organizing emails this morning and I would like to chime in with some praise for the energy that my neighbors are putting into their response to the two shootings this month in the two blocks around my home. It’s a stressful topic in my household, and I’m glad to see something moving that my wife and I can plug into (see 9/8 meeting announcement below). We’ve lived here just under three years (our first house) and don’t wanna relocate so we can start a family in relative security. I keep reminding myself that violence and crime have been steadily declining in Byrd Park for over a decade, and we need to keep up the positive momentum. Our neighborhood is a great place to live (although there is some boneheaded real estate development going on) and we should talk to our neighbors to confirm this fact and make the community we want to live in.

For starters, I think that strengthened personal relationships with the people who live in our surrounding blocks is a necessary part of a personal safety and security plan. Block parties and neighborhood meetings help, but mostly it is day-to-day openness and congeniality that maintain effective communication networks and generate a collective sense of hopefulness. I’m sure this goes without saying, but inclusivity must be paramount in community building. Not everyone has email, speaks the same language, or behaves the same way in Byrd Park. And yet, even if we don’t relate to or fully understand everyone we live near, we gotta make new connections and look out for each other. So, I expect that this work will take us to new places - out of our comfort zones.

Second, any action to make a neighborhood safer should be measured against one important criterion: Will this prevent crime? In other words, will the people planning the next shooting or robbery say to themselves, “I’m not going to do this thing because those people... had a meeting.”??? Well, it depends who is at that meeting. But, with many proposals, the answer will be “No.” There is safety in numbers, and criminals tend to show their true cowardice by focusing on those who appear isolated. So, meetings can be effective for creating a more cohesive community and make us feel like we’re doing something proactive. At best, meetings generate work. Hopefully, that work will prevent further violence in our midst. But, let’s be real. Outside of Windsor Farms, dealing with the violent and depraved conditions of acute poverty is a daily task for all of us throughout Richmond, to one degree or another. So, let’s be sure that we don’t settle for symbolic action or insular committees. The roots of Richmond’s violent streak are deep-seeded to say the least, and band-aids and barriers won’t fix it.

Third, understanding patterns in violent criminal behavior not only helps solve crimes, but counteracts fear of the unknown in the public. We must not put our heads in the sand (or let the police/press do that for us). When people fire 12 bullets into a house on Idlewood, crash into houses/cars on Maplewood, and then run off down the street in broad daylight, they surely get seen by someone. Was Joseph Wynn sitting on his porch on that chaotic day? Was the gangster credo of “silence is golden” (or “stop snitchin”) brought to bear on Wynn, and by extension intimidation of our whole neighborhood? Or is the violence attracted by the various houses/apartments/intersections that openly traffic in drugs a stones throw from the 3rd district police department on Meadow Ave? Where is the investigative reporting right now? Information is power, and right now all that is circulating is fear and anxiety. If we are going to get organized, we must first get informed (the numerous speculations and holes in my own understanding of the recent Byrd Park shootings are a case in point).

Anyhow, I hope that my message here is clear. By definition, communities do not run; they pull together. We have access to police and public officials, but we also have each other and our own creativity. I hope that we choose the right tools for the different jobs that arise in the effort to make Byrd Park a safer place.

(comments are greatly appreciated as I'm really not intentionally doing anything here other than thinking out loud)

forwarded email:

URGENT!!!!! Neighborhood Meeting
It is official that we will meet with officers from the 3rd precinct on Saturday September 8th at 9am. The meeting will be held at the Roundhouse in Byrd Park.
Please take these next two weeks to let all your neighbors know. We need to
realize that it is not a few that make a difference but the entire group as
a whole.

We are fighting for our Neighborhood.