Creating safety, whether physically or mentally

Following the shootings in Allston, most of the talk I've been seeing around the blogging community has been along the lines of either "Ohmygod I walk down that street every day" or some variation on "OK, I'm moving out of this neighborhood/city/state/dimension immediately."

I can understand that it's unnerving to have people shot on one's street. Once, in 1999 or so, I pulled onto I-5 Northbound in Seattle to go to visit my parents. As soon as I pulled onto the freeway, I saw that it was a complete parking lot at 2 or 3 in the afternoon. I turned on the radio to find out what was causing the backup and I heard that there was a "fugitive" running around on the freeway. This struck me mainly as annoying. The next report stated that the person had shot some people, been chased down the freeway by police, thrown the gun out of the car, and run onto the freeway. After another hour or so of sitting there, the report was that the person had shot some people in my parents' neighborhood of a couple thousand. I started to get a bit curious at this point. After about another hour, at which point everyone had turned of their engines and was wandering around the freeway, the report stated that a middle-aged man and woman had been killed in their home on my parents' short street. OK, so I started to care quite a bit more about the news report just then.

After finding out that they were safe, my family and I, our neighbors, and the media all created safety in our minds by emphasizing that this was a family who had recently moved into the neighborhood, didn't know anyone, was killed by another family member, and had always been a family with a lot of problems. We made it clear that no one knew them and they were nothing like any of us. Even though a horrendous shooting had taken place in my parents' neighborhood, we made sure that it wasn't like it was a kind of neighborhood where people got shot or anything.

Still, even though I definitely understand the need to convince ourselves that we are safe and that these things won't happen to us, wouldn't it actually be more productive for us to think in such a way that we do identify with these victims and realize that these things could very easily happen to any of us? During the recent confusion as to whether a shooting near Mass Ave had taken place in Roxbury or the South End and also the discussion of the quadruple murder in Dorchester, there has seemed to be this dichotomy in which people either dismiss the crimes as having taken place in circles that are nothing like theirs, or pointing out the significance of the crimes by emphasizing that the neighborhoods are similar to many of our own in terms of race and class of residents and cultural attractions present.

Should this really be necessary though? It doesn't make an affluent White person any safer to discuss how a particular crime occurred among unemployed people of color who have drug problems. It might make the person feel safer ("these things don't happen to people like me") but doesn't actually stop anyone from shooting said person. Nor does moving out of the neighborhood or avoiding neighborhoods with higher murder rates. People are very very infrequently murdered by random strangers on the street without an altercation, and years of avoiding certain neighborhoods only leads to missing out on what those neighborhoods have to offer; it doesn't prevent being shot by an acquaintance while sitting in the new home far from where all that horrible crime takes place.

Someone might be able to find a neighborhood with a lower crime rate than Boston's, but there is no place where crime is absolutely unable to happen. If someone gets murdered in a place with one murder per hundred years or 75 murders per year, the person is still dead. I doubt it's any consolation to the families of the people who were just killed that Allston is a quiet neighborhood without a lot of crime.

OK, so, most of us probably aren't rushing to pack up and move out of the city, but I also haven't heard a lot of talk of people in Allston responding to this incident by realizing that we need to fight for more police, more mental health treatment, better education, better jobs, and all those things that help communities reduce crime. I'd imagine that most Allston (and other Boston) residents are doing what my family and I did in 1999 or so and are reminding themselves that this family was not of their demographic. (Allston tends to be mainly made up of graduate students and young childless professionals, but is also home to a lot of lower-income recent immigrants, which it sounds as if this family was.) Is someone going to have to be shot in every community (by which I refer to demographics in addition to geography) for people to identify with these families and start really caring?


carpundit said...

>>>It doesn't make an affluent White person any safer to discuss how a particular crime occurred among unemployed people of color who have drug problems.<<<

No, it doesn't actually MAKE one any safer (or any less safe), but it helps to guide one's reaction.

When druggies and gang-bangers are killing each other in Roxbury, it has no effect on my safety. I don't go there. If they start shooting at each other in good neighborhoods, that's a problem we can deal with.

I agree we should -as a society- work on curbing violence in the bad neighborhoods, but there is relevance to the distinction, and to pointing it out.

Molly said...

This doesn't make any sense to me.

Is it OK for bad things to happen as long as they're in "bad" neighborhoods, because obviously, only druggies and gang-bangers live in Roxbury?

I think most of our neighbors here would take exception to being labeled as such.

Is it OK for bad things to happen only to druggies and gang-bangers, as long as they stay in their "bad" neighborhoods?

Have you ever even BEEN to Roxbury? I'm a smallish white Midwestern girl, and I feel safe in our part of Roxbury. Of course there are parts I wouldn't be wandering around alone at night, but there are parts of Iowa I wouldn't be wandering around alone at night either.

eeka said...

Carpundit, I'm not sure why you feel a need to visit my blog and label my neighborhood as "bad" and yours as "good," but that's neither here or there. You've just made my point for me though; people are all people. We all have homes and jobs and families and neighbors. If someone decides to shoot me, in Roxbury, it affects my friends and family and coworkers, who don't all live in Roxbury. I'm actually a little curious as to why you don't ever go to Roxbury and what you have against the neighborhood. It strikes me as kind of odd that you work downtown and live in the city and have managed not to have any friends or coworkers who live in Roxbury. I'm currently downtown on a floor of professionals, and 3 of us live there.

Molly said...

And it's not as though all "druggies and gang-bangers" live in two or three neighborhoods, and the rest are miraculously druggie-free.

In my parents' neighborhood a couple years ago, they found a drug dealer. They live in an upper-middle-class, largely White, extremely Midwestern neighborhood, and they've lived there for almost twenty-five years. If someone had been shot in the drug dealer's apartment, would their neighborhood magically have changed from "good" to "bad"?

Carpundit, there's some pretty cool stuff in Roxbury. You might want to check it out sometime.

Anonymous said...

the part of roxbury you live in is not the part that i believe he is referring to. you guys dont live on humboldt ave or in grove hall - you live in the the hospital area/mission hill/fort hill area. big difference. i know you are very proud that you live in "roxbury", but it more fenwayish than anything else.