Shutting Out the World: Preventing Violence in Flint

Pete Hutchison Blog Posts 19 Comments

By: Pete Hutchison, YES Program Director

The real frustration of the current rate of violence in Flint is that there are so many concerned people working to prevent it.  There are active neighborhood groups, collaborations amongst the faith community, a multitude of youth serving organizations meeting together and looking for solutions.  Yet with all of this we still can’t seem to get on top of it.  Unfortunately the violence isn’t occurring in the meeting rooms in Flint, nor is it necessarily happening from 9 – 5.  In order to truly make a difference in what is going on will require an effort by us all.  Unfortunately we have gotten to a place where we tolerate headlines proclaiming another death and write it off as just something else we can do nothing about.

It is easy in our current society to shut ourselves off from the outside world.  We begin to live our lives through our computers, ipads, smart phones and televisions.  We begin to lose feeling for others as we live life through the words of a newscaster.  We drive home into our garage then into the house and don’t even meet our neighbor.  We feel safe in this world, safe from harm, safe from hurt both physically and emotionally, the world can’t “get us.”   In this environment our streets become safe for whoever wants to walk down them and do whatever they want.  Everything from stealing cooper pipes out of vacant houses to murder.

Rich Harwood, coined the phrase, “stepping over the threshold.”  What he meant was stepping over the threshold of our door and entering into our community.  This is something that each and every one of us should be doing.  I’m not advocating putting ourselves in danger.  I realize this is not a movie where the heroes always win, but we can look out our front windows and watch what’s going on, then call the police when we see something that’s not right.  We can get to know our neighbors well enough to recognize a strange car or truck in their driveway, watch over their house when they are gone.  We can turn on our porch lights to help light up our streets, thus discouraging those who work only in the dark.  We can get some exercise and go for a walk even if just around the block.

Marc Zimmerman, Director of the MI-YVPC and Prevention Research Center of Michigan coined the phrase “Busy Streets”.  The image this creates is one where people are out and relating on a personal level, not just through media. It is with this type of community that we will begin to bring the violence under control.  We will show our children the importance of a peaceful way of life, one where we respect each other, one where we would never hurt one another.

The violence in Flint is being perpetrated by a small number of people; unfortunately we turn our city over to them each evening as we close ourselves up in our houses.  It’s time to regain a level of feeling for one another and work to alleviate the suffering endured by our fellow citizens.

Comments 19

  1. It is true that most people who live in a neighborhood are not sociable with others. They come back from work or school and lock themselves in their house. They are not familiar with their neighbors and I guess somewhat intimidated by meeting new people. When things are going wrong in their neighborhood only a few people know what occurred. The rest are just unfamiliar and do not simply care because whatever happened did not happen to their household. Most people tend to receive their news from the Internet. What people need to realize is that everyone should help one another to create a safer neighborhood. I agree with Pete 100% because that is the only way for people to become active in creating a safer neighborhood. When a stranger parks in front of your neighbor’s house, report it because anything could happen. People need to learn to speak out and trust one another in a neighborhood and create a web of trust. I can certainly say I do not know many people in my neighborhood and I have been living their for over 17 years. I see certain things like strange cars that do not belong to people in the neighborhood. I’m not afraid to call the police when I see strange people or things occur in my neighborhood. I think it is more of a comfort level. People tend be more comfortable with people they know as in compared to complete strangers. But either way in a community or neighborhood, there needs to be a level of trust among people.

    1. Augusta,

      Really like your “level of trust” thoughts. I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately popular cultural is working against this kind of thinking. It seems that we are moving towards a more isolationist society which will make trust even harder to achieve. I also agree that it does take a comfort level to get involved in your neighborhood, however, I believe that there is something that everyone can do at a number of comfort levels. Simply by turning on our porch light we are having a positive impact on our neighborhood, or sitting on the front porch. I walk my dog through my neighborhood a couple of times a day. Although not many people know me, they all know my dog and they know that we are watching what goes on in the neighborhood. First we see our neighbors, then our trust increases until we begin to talk to our neighbors and finally we relate with our neighbors and have built a strong neighborhood.

      Thanks for your great thoughts and insights,

  2. Now a days people are so caught up in their busy lives that they are programmed a certain way. Many people have a routine down. They wake up, go to work or school, and come straight home and close the doors. They have no idea who their neighbors ever are. Becoming friendly with your neighbors is a good way to achieve a safer neighborhood. Building that trust with your neighbors promotes safety amongst the neighborhood. People sometimes need to step out of the shell and interact more either their neighbors are ever strangers. They more you interact the more “Eyes” you have in your community/ neighborhood. The more “Eyes” one has in his community, the more informal social control their is.

  3. Augusta,
    A very thoughtful response. The whole issue of isolation will definitely be explored again in another blog as we seem to be getting better and better at isolating ourselves and by this process, dehumanizing others, as our contact is through a virtual world not the real world or from the safety of our houses.
    Thanks again,

  4. Travis,

    Great thoughts. We absolutely fall prey to our routines and they become barriers to interacting with other people. I find myself guilty of this often. One way that I overcome it is to walk as many places as possible and then great the people I pass on the street. It’s amazing how often a smile is met with a smile.

    Thanks for your thoughts,

  5. I completely agree with you Pete yet I myself rarely ever go outside of my home or talk to any other people in my neighborhood besides my next door neighbors. Reading your article really inspires me to actually walk down my block (which I NEVER do) and observe how the community is. My neighborhood as well has a reputation for gangs and violence and I myself and some of the community members are so aware of our surroundings that we have been accustomed to hear about our neighborhood in the news. But you are correct, unless we want to see change and let our children in the community know that what is going on is not okay, we need to put a stop to it and be involved as a community and collaborate with other organizations or our park in our neighborhood in order to prevent future violence and promote order in our streets. Great article!

    1. Jessica,

      I think walking down your block is a great thing to do. Your response reminds me however that when I work with neighborhood groups in Flint, I always emphasize the need to stay safe. In the media we seem to highlight those people that actively intervene in problems in their neighborhood – running the drug dealers off the corners, kicking the gang members out of the neighborhood, etc. – but in real life this is a very dangerous way to get involved, I think that we can get involved by walking down the block and being visible, by looking out our windows and watching what is going on, by greeting people we pass in the streets, etc. I would never advocate for someone who is not prepared trying to be a hero.

      Thanks for your thoughts,

  6. This is very true and I also completely agree with Pete. I myself tend to not know anyone in my neighborhood if it wasn’t for my aunt living next door. Many of us come home from work or school and just get in our homes close the door and completely ignore what is going on in our neighborhood. in order to created safer neighborhoods and look out for one another, people should start getting to know each other and leave that attitude of not wanting to talk to your neighbor. I have also seen this occur mostly in neighborhoods where different races live together, for some reason it is harder to associate if neighbors are of different race for various reasons. For example in my neighborhood there are White neighbors in front of my house and an Asian neighbors next door, I have never seen them talk to one another or with my Hispanic neighbors. On the other hand my other neighbor is Hispanic, I have seen them associate with my family and other Hispanics in my neighborhood. Whatever the case is, people need to understand that we are in United States a diverse country and we must get along to promote safety and successfully future. If people actually trusted one another and had contact on a daily basis in all communities a lot of crimes could be prevented.

    1. I myself fall guilt to the fact that I at one point did not care much to know my neighbors. I to this day do not know must of them around me but I do know a good amount. Neighbors around me are always together during the weekends and spent a lot of time together on their down time. Neighbors around me always have eyes around the neighborhood on suspicious activity, in order to protect others privacy. My family had one experience that a neighbor was fortunate to solve. My neighbor and another man noticed a stranger wondering next to one of our vehicles and had him go away without using violence. I once found my neighbors dog roaming the streets and brought him back to its owners. It is a good feeling knowing that the people living around you have your back and are there in times of need.

    2. Noel,

      It sounds as if you are living in the kind of neighborhood that I’m advocating for . I would encourage you to join in some of those weekend conversations and I applaud you bringing home the dog. Getting involved in your neighborhood is a win/win not only do you help to keep the neighborhood safe, but you’ll also have a good time doing it.

      Thanks for your input,

    3. Beatriz,

      For some reason the page wouldn’t let me answer right under your comment, so I hope that you find this as you made a really tremendous point, one which I hope you consider taking a closer look at. That point is the isolation caused by racism. We often talk about the overt consequences of racism, but what your comment points out is one of the subtle impacts. I suspect that this barrier to productive relationships is not particularly unique to your neighborhood, I suspect it happens in a lot of neighborhoods all across the country. The more dramatic effects we see of this issue occur when one race leaves and area because another is moving in, i.e. the white flight of the sixties. This opens neighborhoods up to crime and violence, simply because people won’t talk to one another because of their race. This would be a great blog to write and Beatriz I would encourage you to write it. If you want send it to me and we’ll post it on this website.

      You’ve given me something to think about, thanks,

  7. I believe than any community presence will help to prevent crime in a neighborhood. There is less likely to be criminals in a neighborhood in which residents are active at all times of the day. This is because most crimes tend to be crimes of opportunity. There is also less likely to be a criminal in a neighborhood in which residents are observant of any suspicious activity in the area. It is the simple things such as taking a walk around the neighborhood, greeting neighbors as you pass, and engaging in even brief conversation with neighbors that will help to prevent crime in a neighborhood. The goal of law enforcement is to provide a community presence. This is difficult because law enforcement is not able to be at all places at all times. It is the responsibility of residents in a neighborhood to maintain a community presence. I strongly believe in simple steps to improve community presence such as sensor lights on porches and drive ways and alarm signs on front yards. The prevention of crime may also be accomplished though a neighborhood watch program in which bi-weekly or even monthly meetings are held by residents of a neighborhood to discuss suspicious activity and improving community presence. The prevention of crime in a neighborhood is the responsibility of residents to engage other residents in making an effort to provide a community presence.

    1. Peter,

      The brevity of my response is in no way meant to minimize your thoughts. I could go through point by point, but I’d only be agreeing with every point you made. As one who was educated by the founder of Community Policing, I can assure you the Dr. Robert Trojanowicz would be proud of your comments as you succinctly laid out the foundation of Community Policing.

      Good job,

  8. I believe that this call for a sense of community cohesiveness if one of the utmost importance. As a comment mentioned before, community policing and forming trust within the community will allow the membrs of that community to form relationships with each other where they can hold each other accountable for keeping the community together. This brings a specific theory to mind: the social bonds theory. By having a relationship with the community, it will make many feel like they have somewhere to turn and that they are not outsiders or delinquents.

    1. Sarah,

      Great insight, bringing in the social bonds theory. I like your interpretation of it being a force of accountability. Some of our prior research into community gardening shows that the type of bonding that you are talking about does in fact get used as a source of individual accountability. Those that worked in the garden were holding others in the neighborhood accountable for helping, prior to them getting any of the produce. As you point out it is also a get way to force accountability to certain social norms.

      Thanks for your input,

  9. I am in total agreement with the author of this post because this society will, if not completely oblivious or do not care, hear of a horrific story of despair and violence and say how sad the situation is, then turn around and go on with their lives as if nothing happened. People who think that they are only one person and would not accomplish anything in a collaborative efforts to correct what is wrong with this society, need to realize that they can make a difference. Another issue I have is making people care, making them care that those streets and this city is yours, it is your home, be proud and take a stand and make an effort to be mindful of the conditions of your city. One last thing, which is also something I can improve on, would be to take the time to get to know neighbors and be more social, because as you may or may not know, knowing neighbors and knowing people is important and necessary in all aspects of life.

    1. Cesar,

      The issue of community ownership is one that we attempt to address in our community program, Youth Empowerment Solutions (YES). By having young people design and implement a community development project we believe that it will increase their ownership in the community and lead to less high risk behaviors. Although it is a little premature to present you with the empirical data (we are in the beginning stages of the project) I feel confident that the project results will show a success. As to your suggestion that we all need to be more social, I agree, and it is a low cost solution to a wide variety of our problems.

      Thanks for your input,

  10. Pete,
    I completely agree with you. Too many people do not know their own neighbors, and would much rather stay locked in their house. A couple weeks ago, a person who lives two streets down from me was robbed. Him and his family were out, and during day time someone came and stole everything they had in their garage. If they knew their neighbors well, then someone would have noticed that there are strangers taking stuff from their garage. But no one noticed, or perhaps never paid attention to who lived there. I just found it crazy that this robbery happened during day time, and you would think that there would be people walking around. In order to make our neighborhoods safe we have to in a way “take it back.” We have to be more involved, get to know our neighborhoods, watch out for one another, and just show that that your neighborhood is an active one with many eyes. In the long term it will help deter crime from happening.