Wednesday, May 28, 2008

After The Demonstration: Notes From Crown Heights

A perception in Crown Heights that cuts across racial lines is that crime is indeed up in this neighbourhood. The rosy figures cited at community meetings to negate this observation bring to mind the quotation from Mark Twain, "There are three kinds of lies. There are lies, damned lies and statistics." I have never been able to quite figure out which two categories in Twain's quotation most aptly describe reality in Crown Heights. Part of the problem with crime statistics is getting crime reported. This involves overcoming a weary cynicism among the public that nothing will be done even if a report is logged. I share with my neighbours the unfortunate experience of filing crime reports and being told repeatedly to call back the next day to get a complaint number. Often, the next day brings another postponement, another busy signal or another unanswered phone. I am embarrassed to admit how many times I have walked away empty handed from this gauntlet of apathy.
There is a perception of right and wrong among the public that exists independently of civil and criminal law. There is a healthy and natural indignation when the elderly or children fall prey to violent crime. When law enforcement fails to share the public' s natural feelings of indignation, this creates despair or private expressions of outrage. Street justice and private patrols may have shortcomings. But these shortcomings should be compared to existing law enforcement in the community. I was once informed by a responding police officer that a brick through my children's bedroom window was only harassment, with the clear implication that a report would waste everyone's time. The black market has historically provided goods that are in short supply or unavailable. During prohibition, smugglers and underground producers provided alcohol that had been banned under Prohibition laws. It is sad to say, but in many ways, justice has become a bootleg commodity.
The other perception is that justice has become politicised, that one must lobby for basic law enforcement on a case by case basis. Those who demonstrated in Crown Heights on May 16 were fully convinced that nothing would be done if they did not apply political pressure to the city to solve this brutal crime.
Everyone in Crown Heights shares a fear of violent criminals. A perception of governmental apathy heightens the fear exponentially. African Americans and Jews have a long history of institutionalised discrimination against them. All of the gains in achieving statutory equality can not erase the historic fears that resonate in their present day perceptions. The pursuit of a bias investigation by the District Attorney in the case of the beating of a police officer's son are of far more benefit to the District Attorney than they are to people of Brooklyn or indeed even the beating victim himself. The investigation plays on fears that are of debatable relevance to this incident.It is far more common for ethnicity to be a backdrop or component of a crime than a dominant or exclusive motive. It is a pity that the District Attorney's office has put its political interests ahead of the interests of appropriate law enforcement. The Crown Heights community is a unique work in progress. It is composed of people who have a vested interest in making integration work.
There are a lot of problems in Crown Heights that concern us. There is the problems of youth at risk in the neighborhood. Rising rents and living costs subtract from the time parents can spend with their families. Some of these problems fall within the domain of government. Most do not.
The steady stream of crime that is the bane of urban existence continues today. The demonstration on May 16 has not changed that. The apathy and bureaucratic indifference to those reporting crime continues. A crime victim usually spends more time in the police station than a perpetrator. I have heard from a recent theft victim that naked apathy and open rudeness are still the order of the day when reporting a crime. In light of the distrust in our community of law enforcement, it would be a good idea to send in decoys to report a crime so they could monitor how the public is treated when reporting a crime. This way, the quality of treatment by civilian employees of the public at the precinct could be monitored. Additionally, there should be a system of reporting and recording crimes that is at least as efficient as the system for recording parking violations.
Politically motivated and bureaucratically motivated apathy in law enforcement remains a pervasive feature of live in Crown Heights. As long as this is so , bootleg justice will continue to appeal to a weary citizenry. There are obvious solutions to these problems. What are we waiting for? Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

They posted this on CrownHeights.CH