Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Crime creeps closer...

Periodically, ideas pop into my head, and I soon find myself reaching for my laptop and tossing words on the screen. It's part of my bizarro writer's ethic that ensures every day, I write at least one thing that is personal, unstructured, and unassigned. It's like exercise, and it follows advice I received years ago that likened the gift of writing to a muscle, and it must be used and pushed every day.

So here's a piece that may or may not evolve into something at some point. But I liked how it evolved, and thought I'd share it here:
Nowhere to Hide
By Carmi Levy

In the end, we’re all the same.

When we first hear about a murder, rape or other violent crime in our city, we play a quick game of criminal geography. We read a few paragraphs down to determine where the crime occurred.

Then we begin to rationalize. It didn’t happen here. It was in the east end of town, where most people rent their homes, take the bus to work, drive beat-up old cars, and lead otherwise working class lives. We concoct any number of misguided black-and-white assumptions about the people who live “there” and not “here” as we blindly try to make ourselves feel better about our places in an increasingly chaotic world.

We heave a sigh of relief, comfortable not only that it can’t happen here, but that once again it didn’t.

That sense of security is, of course, false. It can indeed happen here. It can happen anywhere. And no amount of social climbing or silent elitism can change that fact or otherwise enhance our personal safety.

Violent crime isn’t supposed to happen in rural Pennsylvania, least of all to highly religious, clean-living and peace-loving Amish. Yet five Amish girls died last month when a deranged gunman lined them up against the wall of their one-room schoolhouse and executed them.

Violent crime isn’t supposed to happen in my old school, in a downtown Montreal college cafeteria. A promising 18-year-old woman who loved pink isn’t supposed to be shot dead by a gun-toting, goth-worshipping freak. Yet she was.

Violent crime isn’t supposed to happen in a quiet, leafy suburb, just down the street from my sleeping family. Yet when gunfire erupted in the middle of an August night, it did.

Assuming that good neighbourhoods somehow offer more protection won’t make us any safer. Stigmatizing those who live east of Adelaide – a longstanding yet unwritten London tradition – hardly keeps crime away from other areas. Yet we continue to believe in this separatist ideal, if only to make ourselves feel better that we made better choices than the poor, lower-class souls who got shot, robbed or assaulted.

In so many ways, society’s condescending way of viewing victims of violent crime and the neighbourhoods where these crimes occur is a large part of the problem. We separate ourselves, physically and psychologically, from those with whom we share our city. We don’t ride the bus because it’s somehow below us. We avoid our downtown like the plague because we can’t – or won’t – face the sometimes-ugly realities of living in a mid-sized city.

Yet it is this very strategy of exclusion that lies at the root of today’s decay. We spend so much time trying to get out of the wrong neighbourhoods and into the right ones. Once we arrive, we drive up to our snout homes, barely pausing in the driveway to give the automatic garage door openers enough time to work. We live alongside neighbours who we barely know because we no longer take the time to learn their names. How can we when we no longer walk the streets where we live?

The idealist in me believes that the isolationist ideals at the core of suburban and exurban society need not be our ultimate destiny. My rose-colored view of the world includes next-door neighbours who no longer stare awestruck into the local television cameras and blindly proclaim that the kid who just shot up the local school seemed like a good kid from a quiet family. Maybe if we all took a little more time to speak across the fence, gun-toting freaks wouldn’t fester silently before exploding tragically.

Sure, it’s a laughably utopian way of thinking. But it has to start somewhere. Otherwise, violent crime will continue to creep ever deeper into the areas we always thought were safe. And we’ll continue to shrug our shoulders as we seek yet another magic solution to a problem that seemingly offers none.

Your turn: Are there any solutions? Can there be true safe haven from crime? How does your response make you feel?


Shephard said...

Very thought provoking. I wouldn't dare speak for everyone. So this is my take.

9/11 has fostered a lot of festering, paranoia and blaming. For us, we see our president making us loathed the world over, making us feel even less safe. We see our president throwing the mid to lower income populace to the wolves while he shames us into submissive agreement and support (not all of us, I will add). All of this, from 911 to the actions of our administration fosters a greater feeling of danger and lack of well-being. It has exacerbated the tendency you wrote about above. IMO, this is the reason for the increase of lash-out-crime. Another contributing factor is the clannishness of certain ethnic backgrounds, bourne honestry from the separatism you spoke of. It all seems to self-perpetuate, and is reinforced by the sensationalism of our nightly news. I wish there were easy answers.

I am aware of it all, and I live my life as a sort of ambassador for kindness. I make eye contact, I say hello, I'm polite, I hold doors, I smile and wave at neighbors, and try to make a difference. And I vote carefully in elections.

So many factors holding it in place. Not sure how to unravel it all.

Anonymous said...


We live in the East End in a beautiful 110 year old home. When we moved in it was what we could afford. We stayed not because of intertia, but there are two ways to change a neighbourhood. By staying or leaving. The same with our public school. We sent our kids to a really good pretensous preschool and then to our local "troubled" elementary school. We had caring teachers and again, I believe that our kids had a more positive influence on the disadvantaged kids than the bad kids had on them.

We live in a neighbourhood. We notice when a stranger is on a neighbours front porch. If someone looks like they are suspicious, we report them, or confront them. We share tools, gardening tips, and we know which kids belong to whom.

It used to be said that it takes a village to raise a child. In the case of London Ontario, it takes a neighbourhood to build a city.

Tom the biker

Chatty said...

We moved to our house in a sleepy little town nearly three years ago. The "city" where we lived was where my husband grew up. It was a small NE city, but as with time, crime found it irresistable too. There was a rape one street over from ours and that was the final straw. We left. It's sad really. Last week, that city lost it's first officer in over 30 years to the hands of a man with a bullet. He didn't even have a chance to react and probably didn't even know he was shot in the head. I hope that crime doesn't find us here as we are comfortable. But isn't that when it always hits? People have to be vigilant and educated. It is a pretty scarey world in which we live. It's true that this isn't my grandparents time, my parents time and eventually, someone will say that our time was the *good old days* too.

Wordnerd said...

What a powerful piece, Carmi.

I work in criminal law (prosecution side) so I'm always disgustingly aware of the depths to which people will sink. I am also aware of the fact that no place is as safe as one wants it to be. For every place that is considered a quiet little area there can always be that one person who can disrupt all that is dear to you.

Yet I don't allow myself to be overly fearful. I only allow myself to be cautious and to use good judgment. Because to be fearful is to give up a sense of control, leaving us vulnerable to being victimized.

All we can really do is think, and be, smart.

srp said...

Crime can hit anywhere. We have become a people with no shame, declining moral values; many feeling entitled to whatever they want, not caring about consequences to their actions..... self-centered, narcissistic.

I don't think you can legislate the change in thinking; only a change of the heart can fix this.

Terri said...

Brilliant piece of writing, Carmi. Do I see a book of essay's on the horizon?
Your piece made me think of the saying, "No man is an island."