About a week ago, I received the following email from one of our neighbors:
Now, of course, I wasn't there, and the email above does not contain any reporting on ILFA's part, so I won't speculate further on the specifics of this particular incident. That said, the message at the end is worth repeating. Crime is a reality in New York, and in the 77th Precinct (our own), robbery and petit larceny are both on the rise this year. Anonymity is a feature of city living - and a draw for some folks looking to escape the social supervision of the small town - but it comes with a cost, particularly when someone is in trouble. We count on police to do our policing, but the NYPD can't be everywhere at once (and if they were, we'd live in a police state, and that would be troubling, to say the least), so sometimes it falls to citizens to look out for one another and take action to make the world we live in a world we want to live in.
While it's admittedly tricky business in a rapidly-changing neighborhood where we don't know everyone (and where tensions generated by gentrification work against affective ties), looking out for neighbors isn't just a sign of community, it's a route to building community. This doesn't mean calling the police every time someone looks different, or putting oneself in harm's way. Everyone has different levels of comfort with these sorts of things, but eye contact, greetings, and simple questions can go a long way toward both defusing situations and assessing whether they require further action (calling 911 shouldn't be a first reaction, but it should never be taboo, either). There aren't any special tricks or magic bullets, and no one should try to break up a situation like this alone, but concerned, alert citizens who don't turn away from bad situations can be as crucial to neighborhood safety as the Skywatch and impact zones. Call it enlightened self-interest - if you look out for someone, it's more likely that there'll be someone looking out for you.