As I mentioned last week, there have been a series of attacks on people in our neighborhood over the last month.
I began to organize around it after reading many posts on social media, different perspectives and experiences both from relative newcomers to the neighborhood as well as lifelong Greenpointers.
I felt that it would be better for us to meet in person than chatter and gossip online. I believed that through openly sharing our experiences, we should be able to come up with achievable goals that would improve our safety in the community, and I have already learned a lot.
Last week we held a well-attended meeting – 80 people came, as well as the Community Affairs officers from the 94th precinct.
Some came with their own complaints, some with curiosity. Others came to provide perspective on strategies that had worked or not worked in the past, as Greenpoint, especially the area around the park, has always struggled with various crime (as all communities do).
Through this last two-week period, I've had time to think and reflect about key components of being a responsible member of a community. Often times we want to solely place the blame on the police or on the lawmakers, but we as citizens and community members have a major responsibility in this as well.
First of all, it is vital for people to report the crimes they witness or experience. I used to think, really even before this meeting, that to report a crime was solely an effort to receive justice for myself, to get something stolen back, punish the person who victimized me.
However, I'm coming to realize that reporting to the police has a much larger function. It helps us know what's happening in our community, prevent future incidents and track problems. As we track problems, we can come up with achievable policy positions to help prevent prevalent crimes.
To tell people to report a crime sounds very basic, but the reality is that people who have been victimized by a crime truly undergo a shift in perspective. The trauma of being attacked can get in their way. This vulnerability can cause people to shut down.
If a victim is scared and injured as well, as they often are, their ability to undergo the reporting process is more difficult.
This means the initial reaction of the police has an enormous influence. If the victim does not feel responded to in a timely way or does not receive help at all, they may be soured on their experience, regardless of whether or not the reaction of the police was valid.
To meet an emotional, vulnerable person with logic or reason sometimes has disastrous results, even if it is justified. When a victim reports to the police and doesn't receive an adequate response, the message that the police will not help spreads beyond them and out to their social circle.
What results is a bevy of unreported or under-reported incidents, which make tracking the true crime of the area difficult.
Second of all, it is also vital for us to report what happened to us to our community, as well as how we were treated by the authorities, i.e., what was good and what we would like to see change.
While many people see Facebook as a place to put cat photos and nothing else, as a community we have had a great deal of success sharing these incident reports with each other online. This holds the police and lawmakers accountable for the risks we took in reporting.
If you reported an incident and got no response, this is important information for the rest of us to know. If you were spoken to disrespectfully or dismissed, this is important for us to know. If you were treated wonderfully, and truly helped by and felt protected by the police, this is a great thing for us to know.
Since a few victims came out publicly over the past few weeks, there have been more and more and more reports. Suddenly, word of mouth is revealing attacks and patterns previously unknown to us all. That is helpful both to the police and to the citizenry.
Because a series of attacks were reported this weekend, the police were able to track the wave to a known gang of robbers. If any of the victims had kept their humiliating and painful experiences to themselves, we would not have been able to find them.
Only with full participation from the community can we build a safe neighborhood. The police are only useful when they have the right information, and it's also important that we work with them so that we can hold them accountable.
Every frustrating incident and every positive incident should be public knowledge. This is how we can reform the system and make it work for all of us, the police included.