What Trayvon Martin Teaches Us

I don't live in a gated community. It's the opposite, really...two major roads within 100 feet of my house, 5 bus lines. A fairly transient residential population in a mixture of rental and owner-occupied homes. I can guarantee you that criminals walked or drove right past my house last night while I slept. Because lots of people went right by my house last night, and the law of averages says that some of them were up to no good.

As an active member in our neighborhood association since we moved here three years ago, I've been a part of many discussions about starting formal block watches. It's a generally safe place to live, but every now and again there will be a wave of muggings or break-ins and we start talking about how we need to "organize". I could write some fairly entertaining stories about what it's like to live in heavily-traveled urban neighborhood like this, but let's just say I have had legitimate reasons to feel threatened.

The thing is, we never end up formalizing our block watches. We haven't registered with the National Sheriff's Association and we don't have any of the signs posted "Suspicious persons will be reported to the police immediately." Instead, we organize holiday parties and summer picnics, free workshops for residents and neighborhood clean-up events. We try to give ourselves lots of opportunities to knock on doors and talk to neighbors about something other than crime. Our hope is that by getting to know each other, we develop a sense of collective responsibility for keeping an eye out for each other.

However, for me, the fear still creeps back in from time to time. When you live in a heavily trafficked area, you become aware that you are so much more likely to be the victim of a crime of opportunity. You don't take out the garbage without instinctively scanning the dark corners of your yard. Your first assumption when someone knocks on the door is not that they're selling girl scout cookies.

What Trayvon Martin makes me think of is that we don't know each other the way that we should. It's easy enough for me to make playdates with middle class mamas who have college degrees. A bit harder to walk up to the porch of someone who has trash in their yard and ring their doorbell. And I really have to force myself to get to know the grandmother around the corner who seems to be raising a bunch of teenage boys. All in hoodies. And until I heard about this case, it didn't even occur to me to seek out the gun-wielding George Zimmerman's in my neighborhood. But now I will.

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