9-13-2005 Black people

Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.--Bertrand Russell

Sick days are funny things. On almost a daily basis, a given employer will portend to trust you to do the right things whereas building future sales, avoiding debilitating liability claims and generally taking care of business are concerned. But when you call said employer and tell them your lower back is aching you, suddenly, that trust goes by the wayside. Yesterday...they trusted me. But, today...I'm untrustworthy. So be it.

I snagged this story from today's Times Leader:

Crime Watch leader quits over absent police

Mike Beatty says W-B cop misses Valley View high-rise meetings. Police say they’ll do better.

By TERRIE MORGAN-BESECKER tmorgan@leader.net

WILKES-BARRE – The coordinator for one of the city’s Crime Watch groups said he resigned his post last week because of a lack of police presence at the group’s monthly meetings.

Mike Beatty, coordinator of the Valley View high-rise Crime Watch, said a police representative has attended only one of the group’s meetings this year.

“That’s what Crime Watches are all about – having an officer there to bounce problems off of,” Beatty said. “It’s very frustrating to come here month after month and not see any kind of law enforcement support.”

Members of the city’s Crime Watch groups recently complained to council about police officers failing to attend meetings. Charlotte Raup, who oversees the Crime Watch groups, said police presence at meetings improved after that, but Beatty’s group has continued to have problems.

Beatty said that’s been particularly upsetting because he’s convinced there is drug activity going on within the complex. He said he tried to call police with the information after no officer came to the group’s Sept. 8 meeting, and could not reach anyone until Monday.

Beatty said he was so frustrated at the last meeting that he announced his resignation. Since then police have contacted him about the alleged drug dealing at the complex. He said he’s been assured an officer will attend future meetings, so he’s now rethinking his position.

“We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Police Chief Gerry Dessoye said Monday he understands Beatty’s frustration. Police are making a concerted effort to attend all Crime Watch meetings, but vacations and calls for service sometimes make it impossible.

Dessoye said Capt. Lori Riemensnyder, the police liaison for Crime Watch, has multiple other duties now, including working with the Neighborhood Impact Team, the towing of abandoned vehicles and the city’s narcotics unit. That has seriously hampered her ability to attend Crime Watch meetings.

“When she can’t make it we try to send another officer. Unfortunately, we can’t let calls wait if we have an available officer,” he said.

In the Valley View case, Riemensnyder was on vacation for the group’s Sept. 8 meeting. In those cases, Greg Barrouk, assistant to Mayor Tom Leighton, usually fills in, but he was out of town for training.

Barrouk said Monday the Valley View meeting was the only Crime Watch meeting in the past two months that didn’t have a representative from police or the mayor’s office.

“Once in a while things just don’t fall in place,” Barrouk said. “Unfortunately, I guess that’s happened to him in the past quite often.”

Terrie Morgan-Besecker, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 829-7179

To be brutally honest, my initial reaction to the foregoing piece was something along the lines of 'So f**king what?' Big freaking deal. The cops are presently out-gunned, under-manned and hitting the streets rather than the local church basements.

But after further review, this is, to me, the kind of thing that instills in the residents the attitude that the cops generally do not care. Nothing could be farther from the truth, but, when the average guy on the street takes to getting involved to some degree, he kind of expects the cops to reciprocate. The high-falootin' politicos keep telling us commoners to form into neighborhood watch groups and be ever so vigilent about reporting what goes on in our little corners of the world. And iffin' that's still the game plan, then they need to see to it that a cop shows up once a month and takes receipt of the latest intel gleaned by the folks that don't take very kindly to the dime-rockers setting up shop in front of their homesteads.

Do we want crime watch groups, or don't we? Should the law-abiding folks shocked by the reverse-gentrification choking the life out of their neighborhoods 10-23 the program? Or should they throw up their hands in frustration and 10-22 the entire pursuit of a better place to live?

A 10-21 is clearly called for in this respect.

While Gage and I were touring the city on the Rock Stomper this past Sunday, I was waved down by two different people on two separate streets. On the first occasion, I was approached by a white woman on S. River Street who has made her voice heard on many occasions in regards to the criminality that pervades her neighborhood. She pointed to a drug house that the NIT team recently closed up due to hers and her fellow neighbors' diligence. And she recited a long litany of problems still to be dealt with. Drug sales. Defiant hookers. Illegal parking. A new restaurant that serves as a front for a drug clearing house. She pointed down the street a ways and after panning my head around, all that I spied was black folks mulling about here and there, and a nearby yard sale that consisted mainly of junk that I wouldn't wish upon anyone.

She pointed out that things had improved noticeably since our wave of new cops had finally gone solo. And she asked that I help her in her pursuit to get a crime watch chapter up and running in her immediate environs. I told her to e-mail me and I would do what I could to help. Fact is, I'm not sure that I can help to stem the tide of the societal necrosis that seems to be laying waste to our neighborhoods. And for that matter, given their current staffing levels, I'm not even sure if the cops can either. While a significant segment of the population at large have nothing better to do with their broken lives than scoring a dime bag, I'm not sure that we can do much about it other than raising some serious taxes and hiring enough cops to turn every night into a scorched-Earth saturation patrol.

We can demand all sorts of things ranging from building more prisons to longer, stiffer prison sentences, or even a return to the days when the cops could bust heads with impunity. But we haven't the stomach for the politically incorrect approaches to these problems, while hoping that the politically correct approaches that have proven to be abject failures will work. Be that as it may, short of biting the tax bullet and hiring scores of new cops, I'd say we had better find a way to cohabitate with the dirt-bags sporting the Tec-9s.

In my mind, the issue at hand is not harsher punishment as much as it is regaining control of our streets. If we put some kid who escaped poverty by dealing in the only currency he has ever known, drugs, in prison for five years, he'll be dealing again as soon as he gets out early for good behavior. And if we put him away for, say, fifteen to twenty years, I see him returning to the only industry he has the skills to be successful in. Sorry, but poverty and illiteracy breeds contempt not only for you and I, it breeds contempt for laws and the people paid to enforce them.

So, if we want our neighborhoods to once again resemble the sedate places that Donna Reed herself would stamp with her seal of approval, we need to regain control. We need more cops. We can slice and dice this any which way we like. But we're dealing with folks who have little education, marginal speaking skills and no job training. And those that do try to get with the good neighbor program often have low-paying jobs that ultimately lead to frustration with all things legal. Short of rounding them up and forcing them at gunpoint to earn an associates degree, the only way you're going to get them to either behave or to move on is to outnumber them.

All of which leads me back to the crime watch guy who wants to hand in his zircon-encrusted badge. If we don't have enough cops to attend monthly crime watch meetings, then how the heck can we reasonably expect them to deliver us back to the days when our front doors went unlocked on most nights?

We need more cops.


Now, on to the other lady that beckoned me to chat with her.

While Gage and I were pedaling northward on Samborne Street, a fifty-something, overweight black woman called out to me with a huge smile on her face. Basically, she was absolutely amazed by the sight of Gage's trail bike. When we pulled up in front of the porch step she was sitting on, she let loose with, "Thas so cute," and asked of the Gagemeister, "Wass yer name, honey?" Gage popped off the bike, kicked the stubborn kickstand down and took a seat next to her. He's a friendly little bugger. I think we're teaching him well. And before very long, we were surrounded by a slew of kids admiring the trail bike, all of which were either black or latino. We get that reaction a lot.

And included in this mix were three black teens that, for lack of a better description, looked like what you call gang-bangers. They had it all going on. The tattoos. The bandannas. The droopy drawers that I will never understand in a practical sense. They displayed what reminded me of the movie 'Colors'. This was the point where us white folks are supposed to start fearing for our safety. Right? So, what did these kids that turned away from their beat-up Neon want of me? They wanted to know where in the hell I found such a cool bike add-on.

These kids were no more gang-bangers than I am, but they wanted to look the part. Much like the much more well-heeled white kids from the burbs try to do. But, at first glance, most of us could probably envision them in a police line-up. Profiling works when you have twenty-some odd years experience on a police force. But, to the untrained observer, profiling amounts to little more than racism. In a white neighborhood, the folks reported to 911 as being "suspicious" are all too often labeled as being suspicious simply because they have a permanent tan.

Lawlessness and some such things are no more a product of race as they are an immediate byproduct of people born into and ultimately trapped by poverty. You can point to some homeless idiot and lament the bad choices he must have made along the way, but, the sad fact is, some of us are presented with fewer choices than some others happen to be. We can argue that one until the matchbooks listing the astonishing accomplishments of our city council finally arrive, but I happen to know what it's like to be the poorest of the poor, and I know all about that sometimes crushing chip that develops on your shoulder because of it.

So, the outwardly friendly black lady wanted to know where I had purchased Gage's trail bike and I told her. And resting on the porch behind her was two Family Dollar bags filled with emptied generic soda cans. Suddenly, I felt somewhat guilty. I've been trained by the omnipresent liberals spouting off among us to do as much. But, my pangs of guilt had nothing to do with slavery, or reparations, or anything my great-great-great-grandparents might, or might not have done a long time ago. No, my problem was borne of the knowledge that said lady obviously shops at the nearby Family Dollar store. For me, shopping at Family Dollar amounts to little more than what my mom was once forced to do as a single mother. She thankfully accepted hand-me-downs, shopped at second-hand stores and scoured every inch of the rummage sales in this city's far-flung church basements. She would have preferred to get our "new" school clothes at The Boston Store, but, circumstances being what they were, she swallowed her dignity and did the best that she could.

I hated those threadbare days and I felt worthless because of them. I knew everyone was staring at me in all of my destitute poordom, when in fact, nobody really was. Looking back on those days, I realize that they made me tougher. But, they took a serious, serious toll on my mom and we buried her much too early.

Did you ever happen to notice where they open these "dollar" stores? For the most part, they are within walking distance of public housing projects, or the neighborhoods that the white folks have long since abandoned. In other words, the captive audience--the shoppers--happen to be disproportionately black.

A good while back, my son upped and moved out and we repainted his room and converted it into being Gage's and Taylor's weekend bedroom. I wanted to grab some inexpensive pictures and whatnot to hang on the walls, so I wandered down to the Family Dollar store. I found this rack that was stuffed to the brim with wall hangings priced at 3-5 dollars and began to flip through the lot of them. Let us see here...Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson, Jackie Robinson...catch my drift? That was the day when it hit me that these stores exist not to save you and I a few pennies. Rather, they exist only because some people can't afford much more than the substandard goods they happen to offer. They are the modern day equivalent of a rummage sale held in the nearby church basement, circa 1971. That guilt thing suddenly begged of my attention.

Guilt? Why the guilt?

Because I know all too well what it was like to always have to settle for much less than I wanted. And I also know how it hurt my mom to settle under a Christmas tree with her three kids and have them smile back at her and pretend to be thrilled with the inexpensive trinkets they had just unwrapped, while the higher-priced goodies the other kids were sure to recieve was really what they yearned for.

While you and I run around with MAC cards, credit cards and wads of cash, some folks are reduced to doing their Christmas shopping at the local Family Dollar store. How sad is that? Take a stroll through a store such as that a week before Santa goes airborne and tell me you'd wouldn't be frustrated by being limited to that.

I was in our local dollar store a couple of Christmases ago, after wifey all but demanded that I buy approximately two tons of cheap transparent tape. I arrived in the stationary aisle only to find a, say, 7-year-old girl asking her annoyed-looking mom to buy her the $5 magic marker set. She was abruptly told that it was "too expensive." The Pipi Longstocking look-alike persisted and her "guardian" rained F-bombs down upon her. I was immediately appauled, but, instantly, my mostly deranged mind raced back to the days when hoddogs and oatmeal were the daily staples that kept me chugging along. Her mom wandered away just far enough, so, I handed the saddened cutie a U.S.-issued greenback of a rather large demomination and quickly headed for the exit sans the tape.

Why did I cut and run away like that? Because I figured that much like my mom had done so long ago, that lady's pride would have precluded her from accepting unsolicited generosity from a total stranger. Especially, some white stranger.

Now, my point is not to admonish whites about how good they have it. My sole point is to remind some of us that not all of us were dealt a winning hand when we were birthed. If you're upset by the reality that ramshackle cars, ramshackle houses and ramshackle-looking people have "invaded" your neighborhood, take a second and imagine what it's like to be in their generic shoes.

I'm not asking you to excuse criminality. I'm not maintaining that we should all try to get along with the lawless idiots that are probably going on their umpty-ninth arrests. And I'm not suggesting that you should change your mind about anything after being buttressed with my mostly banal generalities. I'm simply saying that abject poverty is the root of just about all of the evils as we currently define them.

It's not a racial thing that is bubbling well below our tunnelized radar screens. It's a poverty thing. The fact is, well-entrenched, government-subsidized poverty is a destructive force of which we seem totally defenseless against.

Regardless of skin color, if it were my call to make, I would offer a completely free ride at any communtity college for the folks toiling away under a certain economic threshold. If what you really want is to empower the folks on the bottom of the economic ladder's rung, you need to arm them with an education and some employable skills. The thing is, you can't expect the folks interned at the local version of Cabrini-Greene to thrive, flourish and eventually become upstanding members of the communtity without first providing them with the means to get there.

Thirty years ago, our county, state and federal governments decided that I, your's truly, should be entitled to attend the localized version of a community college completely free of charge. While I really wanted to head off into the sunset to personally create some wild-eyed tales of derring-do while sporting the battle gear of a U.S. Marine, my mom utterly demanded that I take full advantadge of the opportunity to educate my dead ass. I pretty much squandered that opportunity, but it did point me in the right direction whereas educating myself was concerned.

Do you want to see the poverty divide breached once and for all? And how about that racial divide? Wanna see this county keep it's best and brighest-it's youngest--right here at home? Wanna see well-paying employers fight for the right to build a manufacturing plant in the shadow of our shining arena? Yeah? What if Luzerne County subsidized a completely free trip to LCCC for those of us toiling away in obscurity well beneath that poverty line I previously made mention of? What if? What if the poor were actually provided with a means of escape like they (we) were some three decades ago? What if we had the wherewithal, the foresight to be outrageously proactive rather than reactive whereas building better communities in this county was concerned?

I'm really not certain what undiscovered, newfangled instrument a local government might use to measure the effects poverty has on one's community, but I'm thinking that we need to brainstorm and figure it out already.

Plainly stated, I'm getting very, very tired of the white folks being frightened almost silly by the sudden appearance of black folks in their neighborhoods. And, conversely, I'm getting very, very annoyed with the resentment most black folks feel towards the white folks.

If my intrepid grandson has absolutely no qualms about sitting on some black lady's front stoop surrounded by other "menacing-looking" black folks on Sambourne Street and babbling away at length about what he calls his "blue bike," then why the hell are the adults so divided into opposite, suspicion-laden camps?

Whether we're comfortable with it or not, we're all in this urban environment of our's together. And being that I happen to understand how abject poverty can poison one's soul, I'm just saying we need to fight poverty so as to reduce crime.

It's either that, or we hire forty-five new cops and continue to sh*t ourselves whenever a black person happens along. The cops know the deal. What they saw as a rookie, they continue to see ten, or even twenty years later. They care, but they no longer hold out much hope that the rest of us will get our collective acts together. They are a committed, but jaded bunch.

Not to single him out, but ask Majority Commissioner Todd Vonderheid what should be done about crime in this county's cities, and he'll probably launch into some pre-scripted missive about hiring more cops. And it would be difficult to argue with him. But, there will eventually come a time when the long-disaffected, downtrodden many will overwhelm the vast, vast, seemingly limitless resources of the confused and frightened few.

We need more cops.

Or, more properly stated, in lieu of opportunity...we need more cops.

Beat me up if you must, but I am perfectly fine, that's fine, with my eldest grandchild having hung-out on the dreaded Sambourne Street. Beneath those sometimes gruff exteriors we have come to fear, there are good people just waiting and hoping to get a fair shake in this game we call life.

Wanna do your community some real good? Round 'em all up and ship 'em all off to LCCC...free of charge.

The thing is, I am growing very weary of this needless racial divide. We need more cops? Well, that is, if we continue to fail to address the root of the problem, we do. Follow me here, I possess no clarity of vision unavailable to the rest of you. And I am not someone who can pinpoint exactly why some people have remained unassimillable despite our federal government's best efforts for fourty years now. All I know is that black people want much the same things that white folks want. But the question is, why can't they achieve such things? Are we holding them back, or are they holding themselves back?

If you ask me, I think they need to hit the textbooks after we make it entirely possible for every poor American to do so, regardless of their skin color, or their lack of resources. To do less than that would only serve to cement the long-held notion that the white people are inherently racist by nature. We're either all-inclusive, or the much-heralded American dream is but a sham.

What say you?

I'm kind of thinking out loud today, and I could really care less about who might take issue with my mostly random thoughts.

Black people?

Sure, they need to police their own acts to a very large degree, but it'd sure help their cause if they had real opportunities instead of the useless platitudes they've been getting from politicians for a half century now.

Sez me.