Is It Enough To Feel Unsafe?
East Atlanta has had its teeth clenched for months. Its throat is raw from shouting warnings across the neighborhood. Its eyes are dry from watching crime reports come across local mailing lists and message boards.
People don’t feel safe. Groups like ATAC (Atlantans Together Against Crime) are getting the word out about it with their website and public rallies.
In contrast, this AJC article on symbolic flamingos describes the situation like this:
[Jason] Hatcher, an art director for a local weekly newspaper, and Johnny Castellic (a.k.a. “Johnny Hollywood”) have launched a campaign to raise public awareness of what they insist is a growing crime problem in their area.
That same article quotes APD Chief Richard Pennington from an earlier statement. He said:
“The community groups work closely together[.] […] When they hear about one crime, they e-mail their neighbors and then you get a barrage of e-mails. I think they just respond to what they hear. And a lot of times, perception to them is reality.”
Those lines about insistence and perception-as-reality made some of my neighbors real angry. The implication is that citizens are being spooked by the echo chambers of online message boards amplifying every crime — that local crime has always been like this and people used to feel safer because they used to be happily uninformed. What I think a lot of locals heard in that quote was that they shouldn’t get all worked up just because a few houses have been invaded. That he knows better than the citizenry whether we should feel safe or not.
Is that how feeling safe works?
The argument on the ground is that it’s reasonable out here to feel unsafe and call for additional protection when armed gunmen are kicking in doors for televisions. The argument upstairs, in the city offices, is that stats are trending favorably and, so, we are safer even if we don’t feel safer.
I’ve stewed on this for a while, hoping I’d have some wise breakthrough. I haven’t. What I keep coming back to, though, is this: Does it matter if the stats are up or down? That’s a separate issue — a distraction.
The issue, to the people in their homes, isn’t whether burglaries and armed robberies are technically up or down, but that they’re common and frightening. People don’t feel safe. Winning the argument that property crimes are up or down, one way or the other, isn’t going to make anyone feel safer. The APD Chief isn’t really hearing the ground-level argument and the ground-level ralliers are getting distracted into a debate that they’ll lose even if they win. But the people on the blocks getting robbed need a win somewhere, and Chief Pennington and the AJC coverage are visible targets.
And now I’ve gotten distracted in all this. It’s easy to do.
I wanted to put it to y’all and hear more opinions: What does it take to feel safe? What is safety worth if you don’t believe you’re safe? How bad is bad?