But, stats don't easily map onto the lived experiences of community members in these "hot spots" of crime. People living in areas with long histories of gun violence don't suddenly "feel safe" because politicians, police, and newspapers say so. Many are haunted by memories of family members, friends, and random acquaintances who have been gunned down in their backyards, on their stoops, and on corners in their neighborhoods. These memories aren't easily washed away by larger statistical trends in violence. They linger on in the minds of community members. They become key events that shape how community members make sense of their own lives and safety in the world.
|Photo of North Philly mural from Carlos Javier Ortiz, 2008|
Many of the folks that I've met throughout my fieldwork live in places that see similar annual fluctuations in crime. I always found it interesting how community members continued to be gripped by fear and continued to live their lives as if violence could happen during times when local politicians and police were celebrating drops in violent crime. Their everyday lives seemed unchanged by the public enthusiasm around improved crime fighting. One of the residents in the NY Times article captured this lingering fear best, "If you ask me, nothing has changed. I'm still scared to let the kids play in front of the house."
While year-to-year crime drops give everyone hope that they are making a dent on crime, we should remember that feeling "safe" and being "safe" are two different things. Making people "feel safe" is an elusive thing that requires a different kind of intervention. Simply increasing the number of police officers on the streets, or changing their tactics aren't likely to improve feelings of safety on the ground. I'm not sure what this would look like, but it's worth asking: What kinds of things might help community members "feel safe"?