Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Law & Order: Take Back the Night

Last Tuesday was the “National Night Out”. It’s billed by organizers as “America’s night out against crime.”

This event is held nationwide and according to the group’s website, it is “celebrated” in over 15,000 communities including my own city of Vista, California.
(North County Times Photo)

One of the things that kind of bugs me a bit is that, at least in the San Diego area, communities mainly hold a citizen’s walk against crime often dubbed “Take Back the Night”. They usually march on a street in a neighborhood with the highest crime in the area. In Vista, they walk up my street, right in front of our apartment. Of course, the walk is held starting at 5 p.m. and in early August that’s not night! Most of the walkers wouldn’t be caught dead in our neighborhood anyway.

I know what the crime statistics say about our neighborhood. But I don’t see it. Although a tagger nailed our mailbox sometime in the last week. If I see anything at all it’s what I would term “crimes of fashion” from some of the get-ups that the kids wear who walk up our street to get to school each day.

Mostly what I see are hard-working families who are just getting by. Granted there are a lot of young men wearing what some see as “gang apparel” but again I think that a guy who’s 5’6”, 150 lbs wearing XXL plaid shorts that come halfway down his shins and a XXXXL white t-shirt than comes most of the way down to the bottom of his shorts is committing one of those “crimes of fashion” more so than being a gang-banger. And long ago I gave up any notion that kids on skateboards are nothing more than hooligans. It’s just a means of transportation now. (By the way, Moms all over Vista wonder just how they keep those t-shirts so damn snowy white).

My wife is always reminding me that just a couple blocks up the street the neighborhood changes dramatically—but I’ve never really experienced it nor do I necessarily believe it. I just keep seeing these young families pushing strollers in the evening or walking home from the 99 Cent Only store with their bags or walking their dogs—everything from chihuahuas to pit bulls. And both of those critters tend to walk their owner rather than the other way around.
(North County Times Photo)

So this year there were 250 people trooping up the street, talking, waving signs and gawking. It was preceded by a phalanx of cops on bicycles, a couple of motorcycle cops and a couple of “black and whites”. With the exception of the bike cops it was about what they usually use for a traffic stop around here.

Now the bike and motorcycle cops were going up the street at a pretty good clip ahead of the marchers as if they had to clear traffic so that they could get this thing done. At this community relations event, one of the bicycle cops stopped in the middle of the cross street a half block from my balcony. I watched as he “blocked” the street with his bike and shouted at the lone vehicle approaching the stop sign. “Stop! Stop! What’s the matter with you!” he shouted as the pickup stopped 10-12 feet away. “You can’t turn here. Go back or wait!” Yep, real good community relations.

These folks seemed to be in a hurry to march up the street, turn around and come back, almost as if they were running a gauntlet and taunting all of us miscreants who live along Citrus Ave. I kept waiting for a chant of “Hell no, we won’t go!” but that was from a different era.

One of the goofy things around here is that the population is a good 2/3 Hispanic. I’m often referred to as the “lone Gringo” by my non-Spanish speaking, 100% Hispanic wife. But people are reasonably friendly even though we have a bit of a language barrier. All the babies and toddlers bring out the “inner Grandpa” in me and are a source of amusement. The kids in our apartment building are typical laughing and shrieking for no good reason other than they’re alive just like any other kids.

So, the “parade” passed by and about a half hour later came back. I don’t think they wanted to “take back the night” because it was still broad daylight and they seemed eager to get done and maybe to go out for pizza (that would have been the only way they were still out after dark) before disappearing into their gated enclaves.

We do get some occasional excitement though. I woke up early on the 4th of July and happened to spot a police car slowly rolling up the street just a bit before 6. I was sipping my first cup of coffee and waiting for the newspaper when another police car came along. Then 2 more. No lights. No sirens.

Then officers were heading for a duplex about 2/3 of a block away. It kind of reminded me of a scene from “Tombstone”. Handguns were out and being brandished in that 2 handed grip. Shotguns where being cautiously waved as if the deputy were expecting a quail to flush any second.
I got out my camera and started taking a few pictures as the police began calling for people in the home to come out, hands-up. I was thoroughly ready for gunfire and was glad I had stayed on my balcony rather than go moseying up there like a true “lookieloo”. Anyway, apparently the person they were looking for wasn’t around because after about 45 minutes the cops were gone. I had to wait until that night for my 4th of July fireworks.

Here’s the bottom line. So we’re the street that the march against crime comes down. So there are more brown people around here than anything else. So there’s probably some gang related stuff that goes down. We love this neighborhood. We’re not the types to go live on the other side of the highway down in the gated communities with their Lexus driving pretentiousness.

Besides, this place keeps life interesting.

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