When We Don’t Know Each Other

I little while ago I talked about one of the things I think we should all do, know your neighbors. I think it might be necessary to add a qualifying statment to that: that we need to meet, know and build relationships with people that our different then us (and I don’t just mean different gender). Get to know people who differ in their political views, their religious background, their culture, ethnicity, race. There are obvious reasons for this, it shouldn’t take too much convincing. However, the reason it’s been on my mind lately as because of some recent tragic stories I’ve come across.

The first happened in my own neighborhood. A SWAT Team entered a house on a ‘no-knock’ raid based on information that a gang member lived there.

But minutes after a SWAT team entered the house about 12:30 a.m., things went awry. The homeowner, a father of six, thinking the intruders were burglars, fired at them through a bedroom wall. He hit two officers, one in the back and one in the head, but both were uninjured because they were wearing protective armor. Police shot back, but did not hit him.

The tragedy: The police had the wrong house.

As an aside, this is one reason I believe firmly that we need to address the disparities in the police force (less then 20% of the police in Minneapolis are people of color). The real tragedy to me is that we don’t really know our neighbors. When that happens, police end up following individual obscure tips and endangering a family (they weren’t even the same ethnicity as the person they where looking for). The story becomes only more disturbing when those police where recently awarded for their bravery in the situation.

The second story is even more tragic.

Just hours before he was savagely attacked by a pack of thugs here, a Toronto man had complained to police he was being harassed and accused of being a rapist.

When a 17-year-old girl later confronted him on a downtown street and made similar allegations, the man was attacked by as many as six youths and young men who stabbed him twice in the chest, once in the back, hit him with a piece of lumber and, according to a witness, “beat the crap out of him.”

The 42-year-old Toronto man is black. His attackers are white.

But Deputy Chief Bill Sornberger of Owen Sound police said the Wednesday night attack wasn’t racially motivated.

“He was absolutely innocent, simply in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Sornberger told the Star. “He was a victim of mistaken identity.”

Again, there are many facts about the story that are disturbing, but the tragedy to me again is that we don’t know each other. Stereotypes, racism, injustice, profiling, and more, I believe are all perpetuated in large part because we are unwilling or apathetic to meeting our neighbors.

2 thoughts on “When We Don’t Know Each Other”

  1. I’m familiar with the second story… I live a few hours away from where it happened, and it was quite prominent in the news. A few points:
    -the geography here might be helpful. The man lived in Toronto, but worked in Owen Sound. They are a couple hours apart. It would have been difficult for this man to know his Owen Sound neighbours, and they to know him, because he commuted in to work. While I think it alters the way you use the story, it remains a lesson in the anonymity that comes with being a commuter.
    -I don’t know if gender has anything to do with it, but in an interview I heard with the Mayor (who happens to be female), she said the attack was absolutely race-related.
    -the population of Owen Sound looks a lot like the inside of a loaf of Wonder Bread. The Toronto man was likely the only black person in the area. I’m not sure which is more tragic… the events that happened, or the culture it happened in.
    -as the story has unfolded… the entire story was made up. There was no rape. There was no black rapist. There was no “mistaken identity” because a rape never happened. The crime here is that an innocent man paid a very high price for someone else’s lie.

  2. I had a completley different (non violent) experience this week with needing to know my neighbors. On Saturday evening upon coming home late with my boyfriend there were cop cars in front of my condo building. I stopped to ask what had happened and found out it was a music volume disturbance and met the neighbor that had made the call about it. Turns out he is across the courtyard from me on the same floor. We talked outside for about an hour that night about the building and how no one knows anyone and how that isn’t very secure considering the issues Oak Park has.

    Then on Monday evening Chicago had a huge thunderstorm and the tornado sirens were on. I saw the neighbor across the courtyard and we opened our windows and discussed if this was the real deal or not and decided to round up the pets and go in the building basement. The storm ended up being voilent but not damaging the building at all. But it got us both down there faster knowing we had eachother to confer and help with managing pets (3 cats). Suprisingly, we also were joined by other neighbors in the basement during the storm and it was a good chat and a way for all of us to get closer so that the next time someone needs help we can be there. I do wonder though if the neighbors that were not down there would have come if they knew us too.

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