Stir It Up: Until we beat the bad guys

Mar 18, 2015 at 1:00 am

I got my trash container out to the curb a few hours earlier than usual last week. Normally I do it about 9 p.m. when I get home from my Wednesday evening tai chi class, but since U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg was shot about the same time the week before, I felt motivated to get it done while it was still light out.

The Berg shooting was about a mile away from where I live, but it felt closer to me, partly because I have history on that block. One of my daughter's best friends lived right across the street from Berg until about two years ago when her family moved. For about 10 years it wasn't unusual for my daughter to be over there at any given time.

Also, until she passed away several years ago, the mother of jazz violinist Regina Carter lived there. Regina lived there, too, when she was younger. As a matter of fact, I interviewed the band Straight Ahead in that house when Carter was still in it and they were releasing a recording for Atlantic Records.

And my connection to the block goes even further back. When I was in high school, a friend of mine lived there and I spent time drinking wine and kissing my girlfriend in his basement when his parents weren't around. And I played football with my friends just across from Berg's home in the grounds behind what was then Hampton Junior High School.

I've never lived over there but I've spent enough time over there to feel it. I know there are numerous Detroiters who regularly come much closer to that kind of violence and for whom my feeling some connection to this crime is small potatoes. But we all live within the zone of some criminal activity.

As my neighbor across the street said as we both got our trash containers out early: "It could have happened anywhere."

So right now we're more alert to crime in the area. I get a crime report from one of my neighbors each month. It details each reported crime within a mile of her address. She lives only a few doors away so that holds true for my address. In January there were seven in my neighborhood: a burglary and a simple assault, three property damage incidents, a vehicle theft, and a harassing communication. Most of them are not very important crimes unless it happened to you.

It's always a bit of a negotiation when you run across pedestrians on the street at night. Berg reportedly greeted his assailants before they tried to force him into the house and ended up shooting him in the leg. I try to greet people when I'm out and they pass by my place, or when I pass folks on the street. Even when I'm inside, my dog lets me know when someone is passing by.

When I'm out at night I tend to be pretty alert, and the people I run into tend to be that way too. Generally when they have a dog on the leash, I'm more trusting. A dog usually shows that you're a neighbor. People sometimes walk in the middle of the street, which I consider safer than walking the sidewalk late at night.

When arriving home at night, I tend to scan the bushes in front of my neighbor's home to make sure no one is hiding in them. I scan along the street to see if anyone is coming. Then I get in the house as quickly as I can. Sometimes when I come home from playing music, I feel like a sitting duck as I rush to get my instruments and equipment inside. I'd do the same no matter where I lived.

You always have to be alert. The family that used to live across the street from Berg learned that lesson several years ago when they were dropping off another of their daughter's friends near Seven Mile and Wyoming one night. As they idled in the driveway chatting with the girl's mother, three guys passed on the sidewalk. The folks in the driveway kept an eye on them as they passed but stopped paying attention when they got past the house.

The guys circled back and pulled guns on the group. As with the judge, the assailants tried to get them into the house. However, the girl's dad happened to be a police officer. He came out of the house shooting. The guys returned fire but ultimately ran away. My daughter's friend has been riding around in a vehicle with a bullet hole in it ever since — a souvenir of living in Detroit.

The Berg shooting is nowhere near the worst of what we experience around here. But it strikes a nerve because we think people like a federal judge would be immune from this sort of thing. They're not. Rep. John Conyers lives nearby, as does mayoral staffer Gary Brown, and numerous judges. I've seen Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy at the post office, so I assume she lives nearby.

Anything can happen to anybody.

When I came home from tai chi, I was feeling a little smug that my garbage container was already in the street. After pulling into the driveway I noticed that the woman who sends out the crime report was putting hers out. I stopped and watched her until she headed back into the house. I felt it was the neighborly thing to do.

Being neighborly is pretty much how we're going to keep things on the upswing here and beat the bad guys.

Larry Gabriel writes the Stir It Up and Higher Ground columns for Metro Times and is editor of The American Cultivator.