Suspicious activity: living with neighborhood troubles

8 pm Monday: “9-1-1? There’s a man in my living room!”

10 am Tuesday: “9-1-1? There’s a man in a car outside my window trying to light a glasspipe.”

“Can you read his license plate?”

“No, I’m crouched down so he can’t see me calling you.”

My adult kids express disapproval with the neighborhood I’ve just moved into. They ask if I called for the crime analysis statistics. I ask other neighbors how long they’ve lived here, and the answer is anywhere from 15-to-30 years.

7 pm Thursday: I attend a meeting at the local police station. When the officers ask, “Are there any questions?” I ask, “I hope I speak for everyone here, but I thought we were supposed to report suspicious activity. How do we know what merits the call?”

“If the hair on the back of your neck stands up, when you get that gut feeling that something’s not right, call,” the officer answers. “Call as soon as you witness suspicious activity.”

3 am Saturday: “9-1-1? I was just awakened by the sound of a rock smashing glass. It’s a very distinct sound, and I was very much asleep.”

7 am Sunday: Five teenaged boys are parked in a red car; two climb out and start slugging each other with their fists.

One says to the other, “So, you want sex? I’ll give you sex!” and starts to undo his pants. “Look,” he says, seeing me step out on the porch. “There’s a White lady!”

“Do you want me to call the police?” I ask. They leave.

7 pm Thursday: I attend a neighborhood seminar entitled, “What to do before the burglar comes.” Two ex-offenders attend as expert witnesses, and the moderator instructs us, “You will treat them with the same respect as the other members of our panel! They have paid their dues.”

Are criminals creatures of habit? I wonder and do not ask. The police officer tells us criminals have fears too; they’re just people like us. I wonder and do not ask if carrying their guns lowers their fears.

8 pm Friday: “9-1-1? Men’s voices are escalating. So are the number of ‘F**k yous!’ from a park across the street. ‘There’s gonna’ be a fight!’ one little boy just shouted, and he and his buddy ran over there. The men are tense in fight posture; I mean, they are not relaxed.”

“How many are there? Can you see any weapons?”

Saturday morning: I ask my neighbor, “Did you hear gunshots last night?”

“Yes. I came outside when the police arrived,” my neighbor answers. “They showed me the spent casings.”

9 am Monday: “9-1-1? There’s an abandoned vehicle on my street. It’s been there two-to-three weeks and never moves. Do they have to pay homestead tax?”

Midnight Friday: I’m awakened by glare the intensity of the klieg lights they use during Hollywood red-carpet events. There’s a curfew sweep going on.

I witness no violence; I only hear an angry police dog barking.

At the crime prevention seminar I ask the ex-offenders, “You’ve talked about how to prevent criminal activity. Now, how do we prevent criminals?”
“Family,” one of the ex-offenders answers.

Elizabeth Ellis is the mother of three grown children, a college graduate, a 10-year veteran of the Foreign Service and a native of the Twin Cities. She welcomes reader responses to