Last night I had attended two events that lent a startling view to the crisis our city is facing.
My first stop was the reception for the Chief of Police candidates. It would be foolish to judge any of them from a brief 5 minute interaction, but I had to restrain myself from asking them (especially the ones that hail from outside our city walls) what were they bringing to the table to lead a city that hasn’t hired a police officer in two years, and won’t for at least another two? A hiring freeze means those leaving over 4 years aren’t being replaced. What experience, understanding, enlightenment and leadership do they encompass to keep us safe from the wolves of violence and crime, with fewer resources every year? How strong is their commitment, and just how versed are they in the challenges our city is facing?
I know how large their task is, and I left very much hoping the person up to it was in the room.
The second event, a poorly attended community forum at South Mountain Community College, was a glimpse into just how tired those working on the ground actually are. The purpose of the forum is to give members in the community an opportunity to voice what needs they have, and in turn, connect them to the services to fulfill their needs. Connecting communities with resources is half the battle, and forums such as these are a great conduit. ….if actually attended by the public.
The service providers were in attendance, but their faces are starting to show signs of exhaustion. It became apparent to me how deeply the budget cuts and fiscal woes have worn down those in the service and social change fields. The absence of money and funding has a way of creeping into a city’s population. It’s like a slow moving disease, the daily effects are so minute that you’re startled when something dies – even though it’s been slowly dying in front of you a little every day.
2011 was a year of tough conversations. Lack of money and funding have created separation, a loss of momentum, decreased efficiency and a weary populace as more continues to be heaped on the backs of those that carry our city. The groups that protect us and serve others through community building efforts, are what keep Gotham at bay. I read a quote recently: “stop asking for a lighter load, when you should be asking for a stronger back.” These people carrying our city are doing so much more with less; and it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase backbreaking work. I can tell you it may look like they’re balancing the load, but if you listen closely enough, you’ll hear the sharp cracks echoing throughout the city. What’s most endearing about these individuals, is even though they’re tired, their passion and concern is limitless. Their legs may be buckling under the pressure, but they care more now than they ever have.
We have a new mayor, and soon a new Chief of Police. I don’t expect them, and the other leaders of the city to ‘fix’ the problem. It’s not their job. What is their job is to engage the community and inspire the people within in it to not be indifferent. Indifference in a community is a disease, and no leader, officer nor community organization can fight it. What we need is action in our communities. Parents, business owners, young adults and even teenagers all have the ability to affect change. What do you drive by every day that you could do something about? What needs do the children in your community have that are not being met? What are your teens doing if they’re not involved with something positive after school? The list goes on and on, all you have to do is actually pay attention.
Mayhem, violence, chaos, crime and death are all distant realities until they’re at your door. Communities can take an offensive position against them, but it requires a proactive commitment.
If you’re driving around this city day in and day out, complaining of the problems, but get up every single day and focus solely on yourself, you need to realize your indifference is the problem. People ask me all the time, what they can do to ‘start volunteering’ or do some kind of service work. The answer is easy. Make a commitment to do something for someone else (other than your spouse or children) every single day. I don’t know the antonym of ‘indifference’ but I know it has something to do with caring. First step is to care, the second is to take action. It’s really that simple.
Or are you one of the people who think, ‘someone else will do it?’ Ok, let me know how that works out for you, when someone breaks into your home in the middle of the night and it takes the Police Department 45 minutes to get to your door because they’re backed up on calls. You think it’s just a police problem? What was the motive for the criminal that broke into your house? A youth bored after school, uncared for at home, but finds some great friends in a gang. That’s not a police problem, that’s a community engagement problem.
I’m done having nice conversations, sitting around and talking about all the things people should do to help our community. It’s time to start doing.
I’m done having tough conversations, ones where we ask the few that are engaged to do something for us, and they agree with their weary smiles and tired eyes garnered from doing the work of 10 already.
Frankly, I’m done talking. This city needs people to get up, and do something to take care of their community. Sure it’s great when they tide is high, but the tide is out. It has been for a while, and I can’t see it coming back in for a while. It’s going to take everyone doing their part, some small, some massive, to generate a wave that will bring the tide back in.
It’s a call to the members of this desert community that we’re proud to call home. You can sit inside your house, be indifferent and wrestle with the shock when chaos comes to your door. Or you can stand up, take a look around and see what needs to be done around you. A funny little thing happens when you go looking for someone who needs you, suddenly they’re standing right in front of you.
It’s a war on indifference. You’re either fighting it by taking action, or you’re slowly letting chaos creep closer to your home and those you love. It’s a choice everyone in this city needs to make. The only way we’re getting back to be the community we can be, is if everyone shoulders some of the load. It’s not just the work we need. It’s your ideas, your inspiration, your experiences and your insight. It takes a community to save itself, and unfortunately we’re not living in a time we get to sit idly by.
H.G. Wells said “Crime and bad lives are the measure of a State’s failure, all crime in the end is the crime of the community.”
It’s your community.
It’s your life.
It’s your choice.