A few nights ago, sometime after midnight, Drew shook me awake. I opened my eyes to see him crouched down, peering through the curtains. “Did you hear those gun shots?” Soberly, we watched as police cars arrived. “You’re sure you locked the doors?” I asked. “Of course,” he said. We laid there in the dark and I felt small and vulnerable, alert to every sound. I fell asleep comforting myself with the thought that no bullet from the street could reach my sleeping children in the next rooms. Our bed, our bodies, the walls would stop them first, I thought. And there’s no such thing as random violence. I inhaled and exhaled that thought until I passed out. The next morning I googled our street name and “shooting” and found a little blurb about 10 bullets and nobody being injured and footage from a neighbor’s security camera showing two people running past but without enough details to find them.
Then yesterday I got a text from a friend that they were robbed while she was at preschool drop off. They live just around the corner. They had just moved in the day before.
I am full of grief and rage, a potent mix that exhausts me, quickly stalling out into fear.
It’s that fear that has me sitting here, shopping for security cameras. Fear that convinces me that spending a few hundred dollars on video surveillance will stop an intruder even though the data shows that a few motion activated flood lights and secure locks are the most important thing. Fear has me anxious to be home alone, searing into my brain the factoid that most robberies occur between 10am and 3pm. Every noise I hear is sinister, suspect. Every stranger walking down our street becomes suspicious.
So I’ve got 20 tabs open, skimming between DIY systems I can buy on amazon and the traditional companies that have “money back guarantees” and even several hip newcomers – millennial targeted start ups that repackage the promises of safety into sleek apps that claim they can put peace of mind in the palm of my hand. I’m comparing costs and data storage plans and cameras with night vision and reading posts about how to mount the camera so it sees everything but isn’t easy to reach. I wade through the buzz words and phrases, trying to understand which are descriptive and which are simply catch phrases : “Smart home”, “Night vision”, “Deep Encryption” “Bullet Cameras” “Total control” “Fortress security”
One even says, “Can be used as baby monitor”
This one breaks me, first into laughter at the thought of a precious infant under such strict surveillance, then into tears at the kind of world we’ve accepted we are becoming. I wonder if we’ll still be able to see our neighbors with this network of artificial “security” fencing us in. In my heightened state of awareness, it’s already harder to humanize the person who pauses in front of my home. Will it be any easier knowing we have a virtual “shield” between us? Is that the cost of peace of mind?
And then there’s the literal question: what is the actual price of peace of mind? I know there must be dozens of marketing firms doing complex data analysis to answer this question, to set profit goals and launch marketing campaigns that capitalize on our anxiety. But I would like to know, specifically, what level of peace of mind will $244.95 actually get me? More than the peace of mind amazon is offering in their “buy more and save bundle” – 4 cameras for $78?
I consider the fact that the average system costs more than I paid for my laptop. That we own nothing of any value – all our electronics are at the point of “only charges with that one cord if you blow on it and then hold it just so”. So what am I so anxious about securing? If peace of mind is directly correlated with purchasing power, we’ll never be able to afford it.
If someone chooses to break into our home, my peace of mind will be shattered along with the glass. It will shake me, an act of violence that feels deeply personal. Violating. And, at the same time, most burglaries are under 10 minutes start to finish. Smash and grab operations. Usually nobody is home. Intensely impersonal to the person ransacking our home for items of value.
The lure of fear is powerful. I want the fantasy of “security” that it offers. I want to believe that we can put sturdy walls between us and the brokenness of the world. A fortress against pain, walling out needy, broken neighbors. But it is only through embracing my neighbor and sharing the weight of their burdens that any of us find peace. If I really wanted to lower the risk of crime in my area, I would advocate for a better distribution of resources to my neighbors in need. I would know their names. I would listen to their troubles.
What if this whole notion, this whole industry is built upon the myth of self preservation? What if this myth is actually driving the violence in the first place? What if those who steal are doing so because they are so convinced that security lies in things, in quick cash. I wonder if our security fences are the biggest confirmation that they are right.
Instead of an ADT sticker in my window, I wonder what would happen if I put up a sign that said,
“We don’t have much, but we are happy to share. All you have to do is ask.”
“We’re on food stamps and medicaid, but we do have a tv if you’d like to join us for a meal and some binge watching.”
Would that deter an amateur and re-humanize a hardened criminal? Would it melt my icy, fearful heart?
To be clear, I’m not trying to diminish the heartache of violence. The fear we feel after our bodies or our homes have been violated is real and dehumanizing. I still remember the gut punch when, years ago, my backpack was swiped from an event I was helping to run. My laptop and camera were sitting out on the stage, untouched, but my dirty backpack containing my wallet, $0, my ID, and my old ipod nano full of jesus music was snagged from under a table. I was supposed to fly home in two days and the stupidity of it all was infuriating. Why didn’t they ditch the bag when they realized it was useless? How was I going to get through security? Why would one person do this to another? I’m a broke student, giving her summer to volunteer at a nonprofit. Why target me?
But that’s the whole thing, isn’t it? These notions of security insulate us from each other indiscriminately. The walls we erect between us and “the other’ we fear work both ways. We’re all afraid. We’re all throwing up walls, intensely suspicious and fearful that someone is going to come and take the little peace we’ve carved out for ourselves.
Last weekend I was at the Evolving Faith conference. One of the speakers, the artist Propaganda, challenged us to learn to tell a better story about our enemies. To tell stories that humanize, stories that combat fear with truth-telling, stories that change our narrative about how the world works by disrupting the old assumptions with new understanding.
The stories of the break in and drive by are frightening. They say that bad people out there are trying to get in here, to hurt us and rob us of our stuff and our security. They tell me I need to purchase the power to scare them back, to build walls, to threaten. They tell me this is the only thing those criminals will respond to.
Let’s tell a better story.
My neighborhood is experiencing a difficult transition. For many years community members have seen their wages stagnate, their health decrease, their access to affordable healthcare, childcare and food dwindle. The neighborhood school is under-resourced and under performing. Wealthy white people are seizing upon foreclosures and the properties of elderly neighbors who cannot keep up their homes, rapidly gentrifying the community. This stress and friction sometimes erupts in petty theft and vandalism with an underlying current of fear as strangers come in and tear down and force change.
These neighbors have so much to teach us. I watch them look out for each other on the neighborhood facebook page. They catch runaway dogs and return them. They warn one another about suspicious activity, they check in on others if they know an elderly parent had a surgery or needs other assistance. They hire each other for odd jobs and are especially supportive of young families looking for work to make ends meet. They do community art and beautification projects. They are proud of their large park and community space. They speak up when there is danger to others. They even put out handmade signs to remind drivers to slow down and watch for kids.
This better story reminds me how little I have done to invest in my community. It reorients my focus from battening down the hatches to flinging wide the doors and making sure the porch light is permanently on.
And, you know, I think I will make a few small window signs that welcome neighbors to ask if they are in need. A small, practical gesture of hope, a posture of welcome. I definitely need more of those in my life.