I heard from two Wellington Heights residents last week who feel unsafe going outside in their neighborhood. They live smack dab in the middle of it, within blocks of Redmond Park. Every time they sit out on their porch or take their kids to the park or the new playground at Johnson Elementary, they hear extremely disrespectful language and see fights starting where large groups gather. These women are fed up with lax police response to what is going on. I, for one, agree with them.
Here’s an e-mail I received from one of them:
I just got back from taking my kids to the new playground at Johnson School. I had taken them there earlier in the day, only to be met by older kids cursing, yelling, and fighting. When I asked the kids politely to stop, they said OK but continued. Things like “I’m gonna f*** that girl til she breaks like a twig” and other nasty things. We moved far away, could still hear, so I left.
Earlier this afternoon, my husband walked to HyVee to pick up a few things. He came across an elderly man and a prostitiute “in the act” in the man’s car. He knocked on the window, pulled out his cell phone, the man cursed him and drove off.
Then tonight the kids begged me to take them to the playground again (because it is so great!) Three other adults I know were taking their kids, so I went along with them. A large group of teens were congregating on the sidewalk, which made me nervous. A police car drove by, but didn’t stop.
About 10 minutes after arriving, two carfuls of teen boys pulled up. The boys pulled up and a fight started. I was too far away to see exactly what happened, but my elderly friend pulled out her cell to call 911 when she saw the boys taking swings. I was told later that she almost got hit and mowed over by the crowd. I did hear one teen girl say something like, “Let’s leave before someone gets shot.”
It took about 15 MINUTES for the police to arrive. He told us that this is a parenting issue. That they have a right to assemble. I said — and you have a right to stop and say “What’s up?” when you see a large group of people congregating. He said no. I said — well, feel free to stop me anytime. He responded that not everyone feels this way. Tell me, why are the POLICE intimidated by the thugs?? I’ve been in many a non-violent protest (before kids, when I lived in WA state) and cops ALWAYS stopped to talk to US congregating on the sidewalks??!!!
I was angry at first and had raised my voice — then started to walk away. He said — you can’t yell at me, then walk away from me. Funny how he felt he had power to keep ME there with him, but not do anything with the thugs who were actually terrorizing our neighborhood??
I love this neighborhood — my neighbors (of all colors, economics, renters, homeowners, etc. just to be clear) are awesome. My kids have good friends here. Our mortgage is LOW. Our house has CHARACTER. But I’m starting to feel like we’ve lost the battle — that the thugs (teens, clowns, what have you) have taken over.
What do you think?? What can I do that’s proactive??
You have to admit, it’s intimidating to encounter a group of 10+ people no matter where you are because you may not be sure what they’re doing there. That goes double if they look like “thugs” (although you can argue that some people interpret the clothing styles and posturing of some black young people, in particular, as threatening in themselves). The First Amendment gives people a right to assemble on public grounds, but the police also have the right to get out of their squad cars and talk to them. I believe as long as the teenagers and others who are in those crowds know that the police aren’t afraid to disperse them if they have to, that it would prevent fights from happening and people could breathe a little easier. It might help if these kids’ parents were more involved in their lives, too…they’d probably have better things to do than stand around in the park.
Here’s part of a response I received by e-mail about this issue:
Police HAVE TO get out of their squads and introduce themselves to people, gangs, kids or anyone in any public place. It is in their job description and they need to be reminded of this periodically its seems. So, write the Police Chief, your Councilmen/women, attend and participate in neighborhood meetings, programs and so on. Be a helpful solution. I’ve had Neighborhood Watch meetings every 3rd Thursday of the month at the Wellington House and NO ONE shows up. So things MUST be ok, right?
However, having said that, they (the police) CANNOT be everywhere all the time. To waste a non-emergency call on a 911 is excusable, but shouldn’t happen too often as it defeats the purpose of the 911 system, much less over crowding it unnecessarily. But when one is under stress of “perceived” danger, go for it.
The officer was right as it is a “parenting issue” and what can they, you or even I do about it? Well having had teenagers myself, I know even the best parents have “parenting issues” with people/children of that age. Teenagers are the curse every parent pays for having had sex. As to statements of someone saying something about being shot was most likely puffing. That is unless you witnessed a gun. Then I hope you were able to turn in license numbers, car and people descriptions.
Also, you said the incident occurred in Wellington Heights as if the WHOLE area of my neighborhood was involved. Why? Didn’t it happened it at a particular address or location? Why mislabel the whole neighborhood? Your Board members and neighborhood friends have been working hard to correct that misaligned mentality of making Wellington Heights seem like an unsafe place. IT is NOT. Check out the crime statistics by neighborhood or per captia and you will find us extremely safe of most crimes. But even one is too many, isn’t it?
Finally, and this is more than just my opinion, YOU and the other adults did nothing wrong by expecting to be able go anywhere in this neighborhood or town without fear for yourself, be it in a playground or in the grocery store.
As to what you and I can do? Simply by continuing to use the parks, playgrounds, sidewalks and whatever public areas are available and not let thugs, punks or simple miscreants “get to you.” Document and report. If really threatened yourself, then call 911.
Police Chief Greg Graham has told me that he is encouraging officers to do more of the in-person, community policing activities. I hope that soon some of these fights will dwindle, and I hope that if they have anything to do with gang or drug activity that it drops off. Just last week, a man was arrested outside of my house for selling crack cocaine. I’m personally vested in this. Let me know your thoughts!