At the community forum generated by Tim Beaty’s killing and the recent rash of violent crimes, two points were made by a number of participants:
- Many people don’t feel welcome here. One young man recounted his friend’s experience at Polar Bear when he was shot and no one would help him until his third or fourth attempt. Others said they experienced callous indifference from people they encountered, especially landlords, business people, the police, and others in positions of authority. They thought this contributed to a pervasive feeling that Carbondale isn’t safe.
- Combatting crime requires far more than official action. It requires that people feel – and act on – a sense of responsibility for one another. Tim’s spontaneous effort to protect partiers who fled the shooting was exemplary. He did not consider age, race, and other qualities, such as whether or not someone is a student or long-term resident, when he acted. They were neighbors; they needed help.
The weekend of April 22 to 25 we went to a truck camper rally in Gatlinburg, Virginia. That trip brought home, in a very personal way, the deep importance of the kindness of strangers and the caring of neighbors to my personal sense of security.
The kindness of strangers
The catch: there was only one entrance/exit from the parking lot and while we were eating, cars parked where we needed to turn around. But, not to worry. A man came over to help us back our over-long rig around. He was a retired over-the-road trucker and knew exactly how to turn the wheels to give us clearance. Two points and we were on our way.
South of Fort Campbell traffic came to a screeching halt. D. jammed on his breaks and, as we stopped, we heard a loud crunch in our rear. D. inched the truck onto the shoulder. The tow bar had crumpled, pitching the Suzuki into our rear bumper. What to do? I said call our insurance company’s road service. Nope, D. fished out a hammer and screwdriver, disconnected the towbar, heaved it in the back of the camper, and we drove to the next exit. The fellows at the truck stop directed us to a Goodyear shop behind them. There, two helpful – and strong and smart – workmen made short work of banging our towbar back into shape and reattaching a cross brace. And they refused any payment. “They pay us good here,” they said, waving us on.
But wait, there’s more. We got to the rally and discovered that the headlights on the Suzuki were on. Permanently. As we set up our camper a couple of the other TC-ers came over to chat. They looked over the machine and figured out that a wire was caught where the front end pinched the wire into the radiator. They disconnected the wire and voila! lights out. The next morning the older man came back with a strap and come-along. Carefully placing it on the crumpled front of the Samurai and hooking it to our truck, he straightened out the bend, then made sure the hood closed, reconnected the wires, and it was like nothing had ever happened.
We had no other mishaps, in fact, had a delightful rally followed by a tour of Great Smoky Mountain National Park at the height of wildflower season, on an absolutely gorgeous day.
The caring of neighbors
As we headed out from home, D. realized he hadn’t arranged for his flower seedlings to be watered. I called a neighbor who said of course she’d water them.
Then, on Monday, we got a note from another neighbor saying he had picked up our weekend New York Times since he figured we wouldn’t want them lying around letting the world know we were gone.
He had, himself, been the recipient of observant neighbors who saw someone trying to break into his house while he was gone for winter break. They called the police and secured his door, leaving his home intact with nothing stolen.
I could recount many other ways that our neighbors have helped one another – when requested and through their vigilance, protecting neighbors from harm. “Neighbors,” in our neighborhood, include highly transient students and other renters as well as long-term residents.
Most of us long-term residents go out of our way to speak to everyone as we walk our dogs, work in our gardens, and walk about the neighborhood. We have mobilized when crime became prevalent; we have formal and informal picnics, parties, and meetings that we try to invite everyone to; and every fall we welcome the students who are moving in.
Strong neighborhoods won’t stop all crime, by any means. But strong neighborhoods can make strangers feel welcome and increase everyone’s sense of security.
A neighborly community is an empowered community.