DANGER Will Robinson DANGER!
Day 132 / 799 Miles
When I began this quest, the universal comment heard was about my safety in certain neighborhoods. I had the same qualms and they compelled a consult with the VPD for input on the concern. I was advised in the strongest terms not to attempt this as I “didn’t fit the profile” of the subject neighborhoods and would thereby be a soft and likely target. They even provided the violent crime statistical city map for the most recent 6 months to corroborate their point, that the risk (for certain areas) could not be ignored and doing so would be an exercise of crazy poor judgement. A friend, who’s retired law enforcement, was equally emphatic that this mission should be scrubbed or curtailed based, not on unfounded fears, but on decades of experience dealing with aftermath of violent street crime. Many friends expressed appall that, seemingly, I was adding risk by being unarmed while roaming “those” neighborhoods. (Frankly I’d rather be robbed of that five dollar bill in my pocket than to have a shoot out in the corral with Doc and the McClarys over it). Others made a variety of suggestions to minimize risk, such as not walking there on the weekends. (However, by the end of completing the walkthrough of neighborhoods judged as high risk, I concluded the notion that criminals were home from their Mon. thru Fri. jobs and now free to commit weekend crime…wasn’t completely logical).
In spite of a stew of misgiving, I eschewed the home-on-the-couch option and set out to see for myself. I’ve now completed the areas that one friend said he “wouldn’t drive through, let alone walk in”, and am happy to report that (the last time I checked) I’m fully intact. As to the “why take the risk?”, I hope I can offer an explanation that balances street smart caution with simple faith in people; not just those people in those neighborhoods but in the lot of us, our peeps, us. Differentiating “those” people from “us” is a lazy exercise in cynicism and always leads to prejudging based on fear, over reality. It separates us. While I have no need or want of a thrill from danger, neither am I naive to predatory human instinct. The advice received from law enforcement, I think, comes from an expected conditioning from prolonged up-close exposure to bloodletting that consequently leads to people being viewed through a law enforcement lens, thats a bit too wide. There may be a fine line between survival learning and phobia. I experienced many encounters with people in derelict neighborhoods (ironically, one of which is infamously known as the “Kill me quick” section), all of which fell somewhere between friendly (enough to be invited inside), to attitudes of indifference. I’ll relay one such encounter that would’ve typically resulted in a firm grip on a pocketed handgun (if I carried). While in a neighborhood that looked like a ghetto film shoot set, a shirtless threat approached from the opposite direction. As we got closer I could see he indeed looked right out of central casting as the gang banger. When in speaking distance I swallowed and said good morning, to which he replied “happy Father’s Day”. I exhaled through a smile and wished him the same and a happy Juneteenth to boot. He wished me a good rest of my day, and his words made it so. I’ve learned that while statistics don’t lie, they are a limited block of data and leave it to our fallible ability to draw conclusions, that sometimes don’t hit the mark and condition us to conflate cruel poverty with criminality. Some neighborhoods, where there is an undeniable higher incidence of violent crime, remain just residential areas that are chock full of houses of people who are trying to survive…just like “us”. In every one of those areas I saw signs of a stable community, like a multitude of yard signs in well kept yards congratulating their new graduates, crime watch notices, child day care businesses, churches, mom & pop grocers, on and on, and realized nearly all these people want security and happiness just like nearly all the people in gated communities do and are just as unlikely to commit crime to achieve it.
Three large residential areas that were lit up on the statistical crime map like the dashboard of crashing jetliner were identified, so I decided I’d get’em over with first. (As mentioned, despite the publicly available statistics, I feel it’s a poke with a sharp stick to the VAST majority of regular good stock who live in them to identify the neighborhoods by name. Besides, it’s immaterial). The caution I employed there would be the same intuited by anyone with a pulse:
- -I, and likely the residents of those neighborhoods, feel more comfortable walking there at 10 a.m. rather than p.m. (besides, it’s cooler in the mornings).
- -I walk with purpose. No loitering.
- -I’m friendly to everyone I encounter.
- -As advised by Matt Green (who has walked every street in all five boroughs of NYC without incident) “Act like I belong there”. So far, the advice has served me well.
So, my conclusion about Valdosta: We live far closer to Brigadune than Gotham.
Let’s go for a walk.