I’m not suggesting that one of my neighbors is currently holding women captive against their will. I sure hope that is not the case. "How could nobody have known something so horrible was happening?” has been a common refrain since the story broke on Monday. In neighborhoods like mine, made up of very disparate groups, people don’t often talk to each other and socialize. Some, like the large Bengali population in my city, are even further isolated from their neighbors by language and cultural barriers. Many people are renters who, judging from the condition of their properties, don’t feel rooted in the community and have really shitty people for landlords. Several of the houses on my street (and MANY more in the Detroit and Highland Park neighborhoods that border us) are unoccupied and/or in serious disrepair.
Additionally, many people generally don’t like or trust law enforcement. And it’s hard to heal damage and build bridges when our police and fire departments are constantly facing the threat (and often the reality of) budget cuts and layoffs. City services workers are doing the best they can with limited resources and staffing. As much as I would like the reality to be different, under these kinds of conditions, sometimes things fall through the cracks or go unnoticed in neighborhoods like this. Even horrific, nightmarish things.
It dawned on me while reading the reports on how often/if ever neighbors called the police about that horror house in Cleveland that many people don’t really understand how calling the police works. I am no expert, but here’s what I think is super important: When you call the police about something, that complaint is kept on file. You might feel like it’s a “waste of time” to call the police for the _nth time about something you’ve yet to see any real action on, but it gives the police yet another piece of evidence to help make their case should they get to the point where an arrest can be made. You’re providing yet another dot that can be connected. The police need the help of civilians to get these dots. They can’t do it on their own. If you want a more cynical spin on it, think of it this way: The police might not act unless you and others make a lot of noise. So keep calling on stuff if it doesn’t change/gets worse/happens again. I’ve had more than one police officer use the phrase “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” in conversations about when/if they should be contacted about something.
We as citizens are just as important in this picture as law enforcement. If there’s one glaring lesson to be learned from Cleveland, it’s that we need to look out for each other and our neighborhoods. Too often people shy away from “getting involved” and insulate themselves from those around them. This is hurting us and the quality of life in our neighborhoods. That’s why it is time to bring back the nosy neighbor.
I’m not suggesting you immediately start doing neighborhood patrols or baking cookies for the family that lives downstairs from you. Though those would be pretty awesome things to do. Instead, I ask you to consider the following questions:
- Do you know the names of the people that live on either side of you and across the street?
- When something is off in your neighborhood, do you take the time to bring it to somebody’s attention/fix it?
- Are you aware of which houses on your street are rentals and what the current status is of the ones that are unoccupied?
- Have you ever heard or witnessed a domestic dispute and decided against calling the police because, “it’s not my business?”
That’s the kind of stuff I’m talking about when I say “nosy neighbor.” It’s not even being nosy - it used to be called, “being a good neighbor.” It’s easy to insulate and take a “mind your business” approach, but we need to fill in the gaps and take initiative if we want to see anything change. And change doesn’t happen when we take the easy route.