The other day as I was heading out of our street I spotted a small yellow sign advertising a community “meet and greet” at our local swimming pool. I decided that it would be a good opportunity to see some of our neighbors, so I made plans to attend. Unfortunately, it turned out to be more of a “meet and beat” with complaints overriding any socializing.
The meeting included residents from our greater neighborhood, bounded by the four major streets. There was one neighbor from our street, and a good friend from several blocks away. In all, about 25 people gathered.
I felt a bad vibe right from the start. It didn’t improve when the organizer started of by saying that we were there to address some bad things in the neighborhood.
First, there was the payday loan situation. Apparently payday loan companies were banished from the city, so one spot on Pleasantburg is the closest location in the county to downtown that they are allowed. They had clustered around a bill paying convenience station.
Our neighborhood group rejoiced that the bill convenience place had closed, and speculated on ways to get the payday loan places to close. Our neighbors thought that these places would let unsavory characters wander through the streets.
Then there was the matter of multi-family residences. Some houses zoned for single families are now rental properties, and house multiple families.
I’ve got problems with both of these complaints. While I don’t approve of payday loan practices, the convenience bill center really was a convenience for people with transportation difficulties. I don’t know that there was ever any evidence to support an increase in crime that could be tied to its existence. The neighbors just didn’t like the appearance of some of the people that visited the location.
As far as the multi-family homes were concerned, I will agree that the families involved were violating zoning, and that needs to be addressed. However, again, there was nothing to indicate a corresponding increase in crime because of this practice. Many of these are hard working immigrants. A house that size would easily accommodate an extended family in their home country, so cultural differences might be in conflict with zoning laws.
Then there was the comment about people that might appear “different” wandering through the neighborhood. Our organizer said that we should write down the license plates of any suspicious vehicle. The direct quote was..
Better to accuse an innocent person incorrectly than to be sorry later.
Excuse me?? What happened to “innocent until proven guilty?” Just because someone doesn’t look exactly like we think they should we need to report them to the police?? The comments and attitudes bordered on xenophobia.
If there had been some socializing afterwards it might have mitigated my bad vibes. However, I left with the feeling that my neighbors, or at least the ones who were vocal that evening, are afraid of anyone who might appear to be an outsider.
Our neighborhood does have issues that need to be addressed. However, I think these problems need to be addressed objectively, and not in the spirit of paranoia, or, worse yet, racism. If the issues brought up at this meeting really do cause crime to increase, then let’s address it. But let’s not lock down the neighborhood just because somebody we think doesn’t look quite right wanders through.