My home is in Claremont. I picked it carefully, because I wanted a ‘good’ neighborhood. You all know what that means, right?
I wasn’t so sure that I knew what that meant. It is my habit to question everything, and I think that the idea of a ‘good’ neighborhood is potentially prejudiced. So, I wanted hard data to make the determination. What makes a neighborhood good or bad, really? It’s a complicated question, but I chose to look at crime.
I went to this site to take a look at crime statistics, and just to keep it simple, I focused on murder. What I found shocked me.
How many murders does it take to be a crime wave? How much does it take to get press?
In 2003, Compton had 43 murders, Inglewood had 32, and Long Beach had 49. That is a lot of murders. But not, apparently, enough to worry about. It did not raise the alarm, not for those cities. These areas are acknowledged black neighborhoods. Known ‘hoods. And murder has come to be accepted there.
But accepted by whom, exactly?
My town, Claremont, had 0 murders. It is part of its appeal, to be quite honest; I prefer to live in a place with a low chance of being murdered.
But we share a border with a known brown town, Pomona, which has a high Latino population. Pomona had 17 murders in 2003. In 2002, there were 18 and 2001 had 19.
Claremont stayed steady at zero.
What’s up with that? A line, a two dimensional line of no thickness at all separates these two places. One side, someone murders someone else every three weeks. The other, people don’t kill each other.
People say, “Just avoid Pomona. It’s not a good neighborhood.”
But people are dying over there. Is that what we are supposed to do for our neighbors? Just avoid them when they are in trouble?
Pomona kills people. But Claremont doesn’t. What does Claremont know that Pomona doesn’t?
I almost feel like there should be an exchange program. Maybe some people from Claremont should go over and have a cultural exchange with Pomona, so the Pomona residents could learn to use alternatives to murder to solve their life situations.
People say to me: “Oh, Pomona is suffering under discrimination and poverty.”
But being poor doesn’t make you kill. And discrimination doesn’t either. It’s a separate leap, to murder. What inspires that leap?
This is a sticking point in my relationship with my neighbor, Pomona. How do I relate to this city that allows murders at such a high rate?
To my jaw-dropping amazement, I read a book about this very problem. Not exactly my same viewpoint, but a new angle on the same problem.
Walkin’ the Dog by the incomparable Walter Mosley tells about a murderer. A man out of prison for nearly a decade, walking the free streets of South Central and trying to figure out his life. What does he do with himself and his rage and his unexpectedly returned independence?
He struggles. He thinks and he works and he talks. He struggles against the gravity-like forces that pull him back to crime and prison. They are the things he knows, after all.
But he wrestles the demons and finds a flicker of epiphany. This book, like many great books, cannot be adequately reduced to plot summary. The story is an amazing journey of bleak honesty and real hope.
I have no doubt that the problems in Pomona and Inglewood and Long Beach are partly the responsibility of the police and the legal system. I also believe that the people in those cities have decided to allow a heightened amount of crime. They share the blame.
And I have a share of the blame too. I participate in the blind eye, in the lack of outrage and grief. I don’t know what I can do. But I know that I have to keep looking for a way to work on making it right. There may be an epiphany waiting for me, and that’s worth looking for.