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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Finding a Way

Please check out the comments for a good discussion of this post. I was called to task and modified some of my points. But for the first commenter, I have no answer. If all we are doing is throwing cups of water on the huge fire, then where is hose and how do we use it?

There was a story in the CP this week about school children who marched for Peace from the Molina Elementary school in North Camden to the Whitman Arts Center in Cooper Grant. They were honoring one of the students at the school who had died at the hand of street violence. Today there are 2 more to march for - the city's 9th and 10th homicides occurred this weekend. Marching for Peace is not the answer. Peace is not the opposite of violence - ending violence as an option is the opposite of violence. Peace may then result. It is this step of ending violence as an option that seems elusive.

In the article about the kids, the writer noted that once the kids went from N.Camden under the bridge to Rutgers, the landscape made a remarkable change. Indeed the chaos and disorder of North Camden is replaced by the landscaped, streetscaped, and orderly environment of Cooper Grant and the Rutgers Campus. It is a stark transition and represents what white middle class people think the urban core should look like. But when it is compared to neighboring suburbs, most middle class people would find it somewhat unacceptable - too close to the dangerous neighborhoods, too few conveniences such as grocery and other stores, and there is no guarantee it won't turn into just another Camden neighborhood, swallowed by violence and blight.

Well, I can be certain of this - if people continue to believe and behave the way they do, then the results we get will be exactly the same and it will be the outcome we choose. Whether we want to admit it or not, the current urban conditions are exactly what we want. What other explanation can there be? In a city of incredible crime, we have a police force that is barely visible. Yet in my neighborhood, I have a security patrol, a state police patrol, a port authority patrol, and the city police. Why isn't there this kind of presence throughout Camden? Because people aren't demanding it. Because city hall does not feel pressured to do it. Because no one believes that it would happen even if they asked for it, and the powers that be don't believe it would make a difference. That is the crux of it. People who make decisions don't believe anything will change. So we get the results we do want - murders, street violence, fear, drugs sales, and a brutal police response when they do respond. This is not to say that we actually want these horrible things. But at some level, the powers that be, the suburbanites, and others draw some benefit from this status quo. Think on that a while.

Four years ago I changed my life. I decided the only way to change results was to be part of the solution. I joined an urban core community and lived there - became a part of the community and began to tell the story to others that the neighborhood was human and caring and interesting. Yes there was violence, yes there was crime, yes there were problems, but it could be approached. I believed in the value of that community. I learned that many of the residents believed the same thing. It put everything into sharp focus instead of the prejudged view of the dangerous urban core that is portrayed on the 6 o'clock news.

What will you do to be part of the solution? Write a check or mentor a student in the local schools? Be glad you don't live here or support a neighborhood or community organization? Continue to throw verbal stones at Camden or find out about the reality of this city by living here? Demand that Camden be attended to or continue to wrap yourself in your assurances that you know that Camden is a place that can't be salvaged? Choose wisely because eventually your future will depend on it.


Durwin said...

Yes, we are ALL living in communities that somehow incredibly astonishingly unbelievably accept violence and the murder of children. All the while thousands of contributors like yourself pour cups of good water onto the fires ravaging our urban communities. Those fires continue to burn and all the good minds on both sides of the divisions cannot or will not find solutions. You are right, in the "approach" to this, there are many important good discoveries but so much more is desperately needed. I believe that we ALL (community members of the core AND community members of the "it's not my problem" non-core) need to realize that we are collectively responsible for the nightly horror that we watch on the news. When history writes our community's story she will blame our leaders who could not lead and our leaders who would not lead.

Anonymous said...

I have a few points of contention with your post, even though I largely agree with it on the whole.
First, I disagree with your assessment of the police force in Camden. The police are everywhere. Have you driven down Haddon Ave or Mt. Ephraim at night? Cops everywhere. The people are demanding it, and the police have responded. Murders are down for the year. Now I know we have a long way to go here in Camden, but the new police chief is making important steps. Second, belittling a kids' peace rally gets us nowhere. In all your posts, you constantly advocate for listening to the voices of the people in poor urban areas. But when they finally speak up (like at a peace march), you try to correct their views of what's right ("marching for peace is not the answer"). Third, you say the Rutgers campus looks like "what the white middle class people think the urban core should look like". Don't people in urban areas want clean sidewalks, trees, and repaired buildings as well. If given the option, would urban dwellers actually choose trash strewn streets and abandoned lots? It seems that through this example and many otherw you are trying to find ways to jab white suburbanites. Now I completely agree that they are many times the source of the urban problems, but you seem to polarize their views with urban views. Maybe they aren't all that polarized in the end?? Finally, I get the sense that it is always "You and the Blacks" vs. "White people who think they know". Sometimes I think you need to get off your high horse and recognize that living in an urban area for 4 years does not make you an urban dweller. Let their voices be heard, rather than be altered through your perceived understanding of urban areas.

Do you see me? said...

Anon 11:29 - thanks for the reality check. You are right to call me out on several things. I wrote this post in great frustration and that's when you don't spend enough time to stop and think. I realize the cops in Camden may be out in force in some locations, but it is not enough to cruise the main drags. I did not mean to belittle the kids' march. I grow weary of watching good neighborhood people march for and against conditions and see relatively little change. That's not the kids fault. I did not mean to imply, but did imply, that the pristine side of the bridge is somehow not what the rest of the city wants. Of course not. I assume everyone wants a clean, safe, pleasing neighborhood. What I should have said is that most middle class white people will point to Cooper Grant and say, well, see what we can do? While simultaneously pointing to North Camden and saying tut-tut. That is not a fair comparison, but compare it they will.

Finally, because I am white and middle class, I have the responsibility to speak to those same people and yes, call them to task for the dominant view they hold about the urban core. It's not me and the blacks against the whites, it's me and whomever agrees with me against those who continue to exploit the urban core by virtue of their white privilege. And no. I have never said that I am who I am not. I think I have a view of the city that most white people will never see. I am not speaking for anyone but myself and sometimes I forget that. If I erred in your opinion, thank you for calling me out. And thanks for the very thoughtful comments. It obviously got me thinking!

Anonymous said...

thanks for responding to my earlier anonymous comment. i love reading your blog on camden and i appreciate all your views! they are so thought-provoking.