Saturday, October 04, 2008

Ever wonder why people in our inner cities are angry??

As I got ready to leave the Roseland Town Homes (a housing project that has been rennovated in a very visible and accessed part of Dallas) at 7:00 on a Friday night, a fight was getting ready to happen. Thirty to forty people rounded the corner of the building and as they saw the fight materializing, many broke into a run to get there quicker.

I watched as my co-worker called 9-1-1 then got in my car and drove off.

Before I had even pulled out of the apartments, I saw the police lights. As I chose a different exit route, I nearly ran into two more police cars as they jumped the curb and sped across the open lot. I looked back to see two other police rapidly approaching from a different direction. When I pulled into the Jack in the Box parking lot, I heard a helicopter overhead. I watched it fly directly to Roseland and begin circling. The immediate and massive response for a teenage fight was unbelievable.

As I watched all of this activity, I could barely contain my anger. However, my anger is probably not what you think.

My anger is not at the teenagers who were fighting or those who were running to the fight. Nor was my anger at the police who were responding to the fight (I was actually very happy to see such a quick police response in such large numbers).

I was angry because I could recall the many times we called 9-1-1 during my eight years in Turner Courts (also a housing development, but one that is very far from the visibility of middle/upper class America)--usually with 45+ minute response times, never with a rushed response, and never any more than two cars.

But it wasn't just that. It was remembering how, in our Turner Courts community meetings, the police officers and sergeants and would condescendingly explain to us that when we called in we weren't using the right verbage when talking to the 9-1-1 dispatchers.

Nearly every meeting, we would receive condescending coaching comments that informed us, "The problem is you are saying, 'I just heard shots' instead of saying, 'Someone is shooting.'" They would then proceed to explain to us that it was our verbage that was causing the dispatch not to type in an immediate response command.

We thought we must be at fault. So much so that we even tried to circulate flyers with this "verbage" that they insisted was the problem.

Yet, despite using my coached verbage, a few months ago I drove through Turner Courts on a Friday evening around 10:30 p.m. and called 9-1-1. I frantically explained, "Three teenage boys are walking through the apartments with a gun...One boy is shooting! He is not even putting the gun's still in his hand!" I had two teenage girls with me and these guys were walking right past their apartment so I wasn't going to even try to let them out.

I circled the block one more time, hoping the guys had taken off running in a different direction afraid of what might happen, but they didn't. They had no fear of anyone showing up. They continued sauntering through the apartments, still with the gun in hand, visible for all to see.

Scared that they might begin shooting again and we would end up caught in the cross fire, we made a quick decision to take the girls to a different place. We sped out of the apartments as fast as we could, never seeing a single police car (and there is only one way in and one way out of Turner Courts so I know they didn't even arrive as we were leaving).

When I later confronted the police officers who attended our community meetings, they looked into it and brought me documentation that they had shown up. I forgot to look at the response time. But it really didn't matter. They were always quick to "explain" to us the way the police system works and how they may be on another end of town or may have to wait on backup and couldn't get there quick. In other words, it wasn't their fault. The way they made it sound...and what we came to believe...the understaffed police department caused this kind of response to be the same across the city.

So someone tell me why the response was so different at Roseland!

As I talked to my friend about it today, I could still feel my blood pressure rise and the angry feelings overhwelm me all over again.

It upsets me when it takes all of five minutes for 5-7 police cars and a helicopter to arrive at Roseland for a teenage fight but we never saw that kind of response for a shooting in process at Turner Courts.

It upsets me because I feel like we were duped, lied to, and convinced that *we* were the problem because we weren't phoning things in correctly...and I'm angry because we believed them!

It upsets me because very few people who don't live in a community like Turner Courts will ever comprehend or care enough to fight for better security because, quite honestly, it just doesn't affect them.

But what is almost even more infuriating to me is that my position and my socioeconomic status allows me to move around, socialize in, and live or work in lower-income and upper-income communities. It is because I can move throughout each community that I have the opportunity to see the difference in opportunity that many of my lower-income friends and neighbors don't have and, therefore, often blindly accept without question the poor services they are given.
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