Neighborhood Watch

by - November 01, 2017


There have been many break-ins in our neighborhood over the past few months in broad daylight, and according to the police, it's a group of kids. Both of my across-the-street neighbors have been targeted, as well as an elderly couple's house behind ours. I took the neighbor behind us a rotisserie chicken the day she had to go to the bank and change all her accounts. She asked if I still had chickens in my backyard, which cracked us both up. There's nothing like home invasion to bring neighbors together.

On the walk to pick up the kids, I come up on a group of three boys, two walking side by side throwing gang signs, and then a third a few paces behind who refuses to smile back when I give a friendly "hey". I pass and hear some colorful language behind my back, probably in reference to me. I've seen these guys several times a week walking towards the park, usually just two of them together.

On the return walk with my kids, I see this group over on the swings on the playground huddled down, and I walk right over to the bench beside them and hear them discussing getting out of a house real quick and something about cash, but their voices trail off as they figure out I'm in ear shot. We look each other in the eyes as I deliberately set down my boys' violin and viola cases in front of the bench and I sit down, still looking at them and smile. I'm now a mom in my late 30s, and there are certain deflective powers I possess when it comes to teens, so I'm going to see just how quickly those powers work. They are fumbling over little blunts and a lighter.

I make eye contact with them and ask them if they go to the nearby middle school. The biggest insult you can throw at a high-schooler is to ask them if they are in middle school. They scoff, and I pry more and learn their grades and where they go to school.

"How many years do you have left?"

"Three."

"What about you?"

"I'm a senior."

He goes to a different high school than the other two and looks clearly annoyed that I'm talking to him.

One still refuses eye contact and he shifts uncomfortably in the swing.

"I got two."

I tell them I have a family member who used to teach at their school, but she just moved to Colorado. This blows their minds.

"Whoahhhhh, Colorado? Dang!"

I kid that what they are doing is legal there and they smirk and fumble more with the smoke sticks they are trying to keep hidden.

Later two walk off, and the youngest stays and is curious about Colorado and thinks North Carolina will legalize "it" soon.

"I don't know. North Carolina is a pretty conservative place. Colorado is very different." 

"Yeah, it's wide open in Colorado. More space."

"Right, unlike here where everyone sees what you do..." 

He asks if I smoke or if my family member smokes. I explain how she runs, and her husband runs 50 miles in the mountains and hopes to run in the Olympics, so probably not. He says he plays football and it doesn't slow him down none. I pull out my best Ninjago line.

"You say that, but you don't know if you're reaching your full potential." 

"I guess not."

"It's not exactly a fair scientific experiment." 

"Naw, it's not."

He seems very proud about playing on his high school team for someone who clearly wasn't at practice. He's friendly, his eyes dance when he talks, and he seems like a decent kid, but the other two holler at him, and they all walk off from the park.

I then have the "smoking talk" with my oldest, and eventually the after-school kids come down from the community center to play. Scoops wants to know why I didn't call the police on them for smoking. I love that kid.

The police say they have a good idea who are responsible for the break-ins. I don't know that these particular kids are the guys responsible for the recent surge in security camera monitoring system purchases in our neighborhood, but these three now know I see them, and their tough exteriors aren't going to send me to the other side of the playground or keep me from greeting them. Today I spoke to the sergeant over investigations in our part of the city, and she said I made the right call not making a call in the moment. It's tricky. They can't make an arrest for the break-ins without clear evidence, and overhearing conversation isn't evidence. Something like smoking weed would warrant a call, but it would be obvious I was the one reporting them, and it would potentially put us in an unsafe situation. But she did say when it is safe, always call and report suspicious activity.

***

It's Halloween and the kids are off school. This morning at Bojangles we run into a man we often see walking around his intersection and outside his house that has been encased in black plastic for years. He has a full beard and slightly wild eyes, and I make a point to wave at him when I'm headed out to run errands. We chat him up for the first time while waiting for boberry biscuits, and he tells me he's 72 years old and has made many calls on the drug activity on his street, and for that reason says he has a target on his back. He is absolutely thrilled to see houses selling for $400,000 and all the new families moving in. According to him, the dealers can't sell anymore, so they are switching to murder. I look at my boys, who don't seem to be listening to him as they shuffle their feet wondering why the lady in front of us is inspecting every single bag and box on the counter. His eyes sparkle as he talks about the impending "unveiling" of his own home. I ask if he's going to sell or enjoy it. He hasn't decided yet. Some people might think he's unstable. He could be a genius. I've looked up his house, and the owner on either side of him owns enough properties to make off like a fiend if this housing trend continues. 

We live in a neighborhood in major transition. The very first time we drove through the downtown to check out our house, I believe I said something to Joe like, "Hell no." Both our parents commented on multiple occasions it would be a fine three-year home. Here we are into year 11. We stop and play at the park almost every single day after school and don't have any plans of leaving yet.

I love this neighborhood. God really loves this neighborhood. He loves the black people, the white people, the Hispanic people, the Indian-American family, the French guy. He loves the preachers, the truck driver, the teens, the kids, the elderly. He loves the moms, the dads, the grands, the families by birth and the ones by adoption. He loves the poor, the wealthy and those in the middle. He loves the ones who live in fear behind bolted doors. He loves the ones who can barely pay bills and the ones cheat their renters. He loves the old ladies who leave all their plants in pots and youngsters who throw their trash in the storm drains. He loves the ones who are fed up. He loves the ones who are hopeful. He loves the ones who kick in doors, and He loves the ones who rebuild them.

This neighborhood has opened my eyes to the objects of God's love - the apples of His eye. I'm watching, not just the crime, I'm watching to find Him in it. Before we go trick-or-treating, we head to the park to play. I talk to a high-school girl on the swings - the same ones the boys were on the day before - and she tells me how she wants to go into nursing or be a doctor because she has sickle-cell and wants to help kids who have cancer or other major illnesses. She is there with her fourth-grade brother, and my boys are doing flips with him on the stair rails of the play structure.

My friend who lives two blocks away organizes trick-or-treating with the littles and we go to all the streets. Not my plan, but she's determined to make this a family neighborhood. Six adults, 12 kids, a wagon and a boom box blasting songs from Mary Poppins. We regularly hear, "We haven't had trick-or-treaters in years! Most of the kids have graduated and gone off to college." A thirteen year old girl shyly comes out from behind her dad, who has just opened the bag of candy, to see the costumes.

Eventually we branch off the group and head down our own street. My worn out werewolf and ninja ring the neighbor's doorbell, and he fumbles with what sounds like five different locks before he opens the storm door and warmly greets us. He's still in a suit and tie and was the opening speaker for an event honoring pastors who have been preaching for over 50 years. It's amazing. It's been a few years since I've heard him fussing out his lawn mower - his son now mows for him - but nothing warms my heart like hearing my neighbor and his wife, who are well into their 80s, yell across their back yard and crack each other up. Seeing my other neighbor holding his two-year old granddaughter's hand as she toddles across the yard to see my chickens is a treat too.

I firmly believe in kindness and conversation. I believe most people want to be seen, even if maybe they don't. People need to be heard and acknowledged. I want to follow Jesus, and I see that Jesus regularly went out of his way to talk with the people he wasn't supposed to talk to. I walk to school because I figure kindness and conversation will never happen in the carpool line. 

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