Saturday, February 18, 2006

Crime watchers vs. hospitality committees

We have a very active crime watch program in North Miami. Marvin Weinstein is the city police department's crime watch coordinator. He speaks to various civic organizations and homeowners associations about what to look out for and whom to call if suspicious activity is noticed. He'll visit your home or business and explain what you can do to make the place more secure. Here he's attending a meeting of the Central North Miami Homeowners' Association board of directors after Katrina and Wilma paid us a visit a few months ago. Many places were unsecured and a lot of homes were uninhabited until emergency repairs could be made and looting was a concern at the time. Most everybody is back at home now, even if their roof is still covered with blue tarps.

What we really need, though, is a greater outreach program to new citizens of the community. We have a lot of immigrants. People speak several dialects of Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole (or, as the spell it, Kreyole), as well as Russian, Arabic, German, Czech, Hebrew, Chinese, and about any other language you can imagine. Neighborly friendliness is hampered by the inability to communicate with one another. Gone are the days when somebody would fire up the charcoal grill on a Sunday and Mrs. Jones would bake up some of her chocolate cake, Mrs. Williams would bring her famous potato salad, Harry would do the ribs he'd marinated overnight in his granddaddy's secret sauce, and there's be hot dogs and hamburgers for the kids. The cooler was full of Cokes and Budweisers and just maybe, if somebody had visited the Great American West lately, some Coors. You couldn't buy it here in those days. Like as not, in the far corner of the yard, some of the younger folks would be passing around a joint, it's odor well masked by the smells from the grill. And everybody spoke English and listened to Cream and the Rolling Stones.

Now the people across the street, being either Jewish or Muslim, won't go near a charcoal grill once sullied by pork, the folks next door don't understand enough English to even comprehend the invitation, and Mrs. Thomas down the street makes the very best curried goat you ever tasted but she knows that most everybody who'd be there would turn green just thinking about eating goat. These days everybody over fifty pretends that they'd never once partaken of the Evil Weed and God help a teenager who gets caught trying to sneak a toke.

The sense of community is lacking. Is it possible to ever regain that? Neighbor looking after neighbor, leaving your spare key with the folks next door? That's what it really takes to cut crime. Communication! Marvin has a tough row to hoe!


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