I love living in the city. I love the energy, the arts, the diversity. Lately, though, I have become a little bit afraid in my neighborhood. Just a year ago, I wrote a post about the teenagers playing football in the intersection near my house. I loved those kids. I was so happy last summer, seeing them play and listening to their banter. This year, something has changed. The playfulness is gone and it has been replaced by a tension, a hard edge that you can feel in the air.
Already this spring, my daughter’s car window was broken and a front window on our house was broken. In the past week, we have called the police three times because of fights right near our house. We were sitting on our porch a few evenings ago when a group of about thirty teens walked past our house. They were not strolling. They were walking forcefully and purposefully. We heard them saying they were going to the church parking lot. When John noticed that a couple of them were carrying baseball bats, he called the police. They came right away, but the kids dispersed. They somehow managed to become invisible. The police kept a presence on our street all that night and it kept the kids from regrouping.
Today, we had a lovely day. It was a fine example of city living. John and I did a lot of yard work and gardening. John grilled and all the kids were home for a picnic. In between working and cooking, John and I sat on our front porch. Our front porch is one of my favorite places in the world. We meet our neighbors and can see all the way up and down Clay Avenue and also have a nice view of Raines Park. Today, there was so much activity. Kids were riding bikes and teens were walking and skateboarding. People were walking in pairs or groups or as families. It felt wonderful to watch the people pass by.
At some point this evening, though, the atmosphere changed. The groups walking by seemed more purposeful, less like people out for a walk. At one point, we were inside and could hear yelling. John knew right away that there was a fight. We went outside and could see teens converging on the intersection of Clay and Raines. John immediately called the police. The dispatcher said that they had already received some calls. We waited for the police to arrive. Before they did, some kids on bikes came and warned the fighters that the police were on their way. Two groups emerged. One group, wearing red and black, walked up Clay Avenue. The other group, wearing white and blue, walked down Clay Avenue. By the time the police arrived, about half of the kids had disappeared, just drifted away. We could still see the two groups, but the police only dealt with one of them. Three police cars pulled up to a house and, eventually, took one young man away in handcuffs. Then, the other police cars drove away. We could still see the two groups of teenagers – one sitting on a porch at a house to the east of us and one sitting on a porch at a house to the west of us. We sat on our porch, watching and waiting.
Eventually, the group to the west drifted down to the intersection. There were about ten people standing on the corner, talking and reliving the fight. Friends would drive by and they would tell them about the fight. We were afraid that the other group would return and the fight would break out again. Fortunately, that did not happen. We heard the group standing on the corner talking about breaking some of the windows on our neighbors house, but that also did not happen. We never felt a need to call the police again and, eventually, the group drifted away and we went inside.
Now, I am left with several thoughts and feelings. First, I do not like the idea that our house is sitting between these two rival groups. I feel very unsafe being caught in the middle. I have to wonder if there is gang activity starting on our street. Second, I feel angry. This is a nice neighborhood and I don’t know why these groups of teens have to be so violent and intimidating. I refuse to be afraid in my own house, on my own street. I want to show these kids and our neighbors that this behavior will not be tolerated. We will call the police every time. We will sit on our porch and keep our eyes on whatever is happening. We will work to keep our neighborhood safe. Part of me longs for the evenings last summer, when the teens would gather to play football. I hope we can bring those days back. I know that some of these troublemakers are those same kids that I loved when they were gathering to play football. I saw them as good kids then and I want to be able to see the good in them now. I want to do something to break this tension in the air. I want to stop this violence before someone gets hurt.