WBEZ Mischaracterizes Neighborhood Watch

Yesterday’s report on the West Ridge Community Watch Program broadcast by our local NPR station, WBEZ, was inaccurate in several respects, from the color of and legend on the jackets to the extent of concern by residents that Watch participants are somehow spies for the police. To suggest that the Watch program is racist in nature is a gross mischaracterization of the program, its participants, and our local police.

Members of the Community Watch program are neighbors watching out for neighbors. A single resident, Jennifer Viets, was interviewed by Odette Youseff of WBEZ and described Watch participants as “menacing” people in “uniforms” who have been “deputized;” worse, she has told neighbors with nonwhite children that they have reason to be afraid of Watch participants. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sgt. Shawn Sisk of the 24th District CAPS Office at the February 6, 2017, Neighborhood Watch Program organizational meeting. He is wearing the yellow jacket which all Watch program participants wear while walking.

The Neighborhood Watch Program was formed as a response to property crimes, especially vehicle theft and thefts from yards, porches, garages, and vehicles. The idea is simple: Neighbors walk a few blocks around their neighborhood, noting unsecured or open doors on homes, garages, apartment buildings, or vehicles, or piles of rat-attracting garbage. Watchers may ring a doorbell to advise a homeowner that the garage has been left open or a bike left outside, or take a quick photo of the garbage and send it to the City via 311. If Watchers see public drinking, drug sales, or suspicious activities, such as someone walking down the street trying to open car doors, they call 911. Sgt. Sisk noted in the WBEZ report that most of the thefts occurred because people were not locking their doors.

Watchers have been specifically instructed by the police not to assume police powers and not to intervene in any situation; their sole role is to notify the City or the police of what, if anything, they note on their walks. They may not use their vehicles or ride bikes but must walk. They may not carry weapons or use police scanners, and must obey the law at all times. Watchers must be older than age 21. They can walk with their dogs (the dogs must be leashed). It’s suggested that two people walk together. Most importantly, Watchers have been told not to misrepresent themselves as police officers. They have no power to detain or arrest anyone.

Viets has complained in the past of her son’s treatment by the police several years ago when he was a young teenager (he is now an adult). I first heard her story last summer when she attended an event hosted by the alderman at which then-new Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson was to meet residents of West Ridge. She said she was planning to confront Johnson with her story; he was unable to attend but Viets repeated her son’s story to the crowd. Youseff was careful in her report to note that the son “has never been convicted” of any crime, and in a follow-up interview said the young man had “no criminal record.” The police, of course, cannot discuss their encounters with either the young man or his mother, which leaves us with half the story. But Viets has assumed such an extreme anti-policing position that her window displays a sign saying “We don’t call police…..”

She also noted that all the Watchers are white, suggesting that the group is racist. But membership is open to all interested residents, and Watchers safeguard the property of non-white residents, too. Neither the police nor the Community Watch can be held accountable if non-white residents choose not to participate. If protecting your home, vehicle, and other property are not enough motivation for you to join the group, so be it. Participation is voluntary. Watchers do not discriminate, and would welcome neighbors of all races and ethnicities. Residents can opt in as well as out.

Youseff did note that the number of car thefts around Indian Boundary has decreased, though it’s not clear if this is a result of the Neighborhood Watch or simply a return to the “normal” level of that crime in the area. I’d bet the Watch has had an impact.

Viets told Youseff that she wants to try to develop a different approach to community-building.  She’s working with others to organize “resistance” and suggested that the shootings of Trayvon Martin by a community watch volunteer in Florida and of a black teenager by a Cleveland police officer support her concerns. It’s unfortunate that she cannot move past her anger with the police for what she believes is past injustice. Using that anger to deepen the racial divide does not help build community.

It’s wrong to suggest that our neighborhood watch program is cause for alarm. Good people keeping an eye out for potential trouble are an asset to the neighborhood.

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Call for Recipes for Rogers Park / West Ridge Cookbook

The Rogers Park / West Ridge Historical Society is seeking recipes for its new community cookbook. Everyone in the neighborhood–as well as former residents–can contribute a favorite recipe, from appetizers to desserts. Submissions that reflect the diversity of our neighborhood are encouraged. The Society is also willing to work with restaurants and caterers to convert recipes for home use.

Your name will appear with your recipe. You can also contribute a recipe to honor the memory of someone special, maybe the grandmother who taught you how to bake cookies, or the friend who shared her special recipe for brisket. You can even include a short comment or tip to be printed with your recipe. I once burned out the motor of a hand mixer while beating in lots of luscious cream cheese to make my favorite pineapple cheesecake, so my recipe will carry a warning to use a stand mixer. (The stench from a burned motor is far worse than that from burned toast. Unfortunately, I’ve burned both.)

The cookbook will cost $18; it’s scheduled for publication in October 2017.

Submission deadline is June 30. You can submit your recipes online or download the forms here. Or you can stop by the Historical Society’s office to pick the forms up.
(7363 North Greenview, in Jarvis Square just south of dog groomer Rogers Bark) on Wednesdays or Saturdays (10:00 am. – 4:00 pm.).

Help WRCO Save the Old Library

The current Northtown Library will close in Fall of next year as its contents are transferred to the new facility at Pratt & Western. The alderman stated at the most recent community meeting that the old library building belongs to the City.

Concerned residents have been asking about saving this building for community use. Although not of major architectural significance, it is a fine example of mid-century modern design and is still in solid shape. It could be repurposed to serve the community as an arts, community, or senior center. It’s important that the West Ridge community have a say in the fate of this facility.

Therefore, the West Ridge Community Organization (WRCO) has decided to launch a petition drive to save the old library building. More than that, it will soon release a community survey seeking input from residents on the best uses for the building. Petitions will be available soon, and in the meantime you can contact WRCO directly through its Web site. The group is currently conducting a membership drive, and has launched an impressive series of community improvement initiatives in addition to the save-the-library activity.

Be part of the change that’s sweeping over West Ridge!

Libraries

I don’t like the interior design of the new library because I think it panders to our worst behavioral excesses. Library administrators seem to believe that turning places for learning into Starbucks with books will somehow improve scholarship and build community. “This is the way libraries are used now,” is what I hear. But should we exchange peace and quiet for excessive noise and bad behavior?

I visited the Chinatown library to see the new design and booked a computer for a couple of hours in the afternoon. A few minutes later, two men arrived with their coffee and newspapers, and began a long, laugh-filled talk at normal conversational levels. A young man sat with his laptop and cell phone, and began returning a series of calls while surfing the Web. People called out to one another across the room. At the Edgewater library it’s especially bad when teens are present, because their TV is blasting and they scream at one another as if they were in a park. When the kids take over after school, Northtown is so noisy it’s hard to think.

Why do we encourage such behavior? Why is it so wrong to tell people who demand safe spaces and freedom from bullying that their own behavior is antisocial? That disturbing other people is unacceptable? That running, shouting, and other behaviors acceptable outside do not belong indoors?

CPL gave up on encouraging good behavior when it allowed cell phone use and coffee in the library. I’ve listened to people discussing their HIV status, toileting habits, overdue bills, and domestic fights while they browse the stacks or surf the Web. Kids run through libraries the way they run through parks. Adults greet neighbors and carry on conversations as though they were in their own homes and not in a public place where other people are trying to read, write, or perform some research activity, whether a term paper or family tree. Libraries used to be the places one could find peace and quiet for reading and reflection. Now they’re designed to encourage conversation and raucous behavior.

Someone once said that Starbucks is where we go to be alone together, everyone in his own chair focused on a laptop or phone, latte at hand.

Libraries are like that now. Too bad.

Prayers for the Police

Tomorrow, Thursday, May 4, at 6:30 p.m., there will be a prayer vigil for 24th District police officers at the Rogers Park station, 6464 North Clark Street. The nondenominational service will pray for the safety of the officers who patrol our neighborhood and keep us safe.

Please go if you can as a show of support for the dedicated men and women who give so much to our community and ask so little in return.