Pestered in a public place
I would like to respond to the letter to the editor entitled “it’s great living in Oakwood.” I have lived here most of my life. I went to Edwin D. Smith elementary school, and graduated from Oakwood High School in 2004. I am recently back living with my parents and working at a café down the street. There are many things that I really appreciate about this community. In particu lar, the Hills and Dales Metropark, our local library, being able to walk and bike easily. But, I am also one of the people who has spoken critically of our police department’s method of pulling over people who “look out of place.” I don’t believe that this keeps our community safe. Instead, it encourages fear and exclusivity.
I am glad that the writer feels safe in his community. This is something that I believe should be accessible to all people. Unfortunately, I have to question if this is the case for everyone who comes to Oakwood. By creating a reputation for profiling people of color, we are making our community unsafe for people who identify this way.
Although, I don’t think that the profiling done in our community only targets people of color. I recently had a friend come to visit me. He is a 26-year-old white male. While waiting for me to be done with work he walked to the boulevard on Peach Orchard, found a nice tree for shade, and laid down under it. Shortly after, he was being woken up by a police officer. They had sent two cop cars to investigate this potential “threat.” They said they had received multiple calls. They searched his bag. All they found was a loaf of homemade carrot bread and a jar of blackberry jam. It doesn’t sound like someone who is “up to no good” to me.
My friend was not behaving in an unsafe way, or doing anything illegal. He was not a threat. This wasn’t a matter of resident’s safety. In fact, he is one of the friendliest and most community-oriented people I know. He would have gladly spoken with anyone who had concerns about his choice to lie in the boulevard. A simple, “everything okay” would have sufficed. But two cop cars? I was embarrassed to leave that impression of my town with him.
We should be encouraging enjoyment of our public spaces. There is a theorist named Jane Jacobs who says that the street is the place to build our communities. With more people outdoors not only is there more neighborly interaction, but the community becomes safer from having more vigilant citizens in public space.
Also, I think the idea that if you don’t like the way that a place runs you should leave it is ridiculous. What about people whose families are here, or who can’t leave their jobs. How about people who don’t have the privilege of going wherever they want, whenever they want. What about people who want to stay in their community and work to make it the healthiest place it can be. What kind of world are we creating when we are unwilling to live with people who don’t share our views?
I too believe that it is important to smile at my neighbors. I do this indiscriminately when I am out walking, but I didn’t learn that growing up in Oakwood. I learned that from the very friend who was pestered for making use of a public space when he came here to visit.