Neighbors Cancel Halloween… but it’s a good thing.

I live in a neighborhood that, for the most part, that is pretty quiet. Many of the people that once lived here have left or passed away. Over the past decade, lots of Hispanics and Latinos have become a significant part of my community. I did my part by welcoming all of them. This year my neighborhood has given me the ultimate present. My neighbors are not participating in “Halloween candy handouts” to anyone. One of my dearest neighbors, Jessie (an immigrant from Mexico), his wife, and two teenage boys, have been very supportive of me being on the registry. They let me know that all the neighbors decided to not allow trick or treating in our neighborhood. In fact, today, when a deputy came to do a home visit, my phone rang from three other Hispanic neighbors to let me know a deputy had come to my door for a unannounced compliance check when I wasn’t at home. All of my neighborhood thinks the registry is a bad idea overall and naturally do not trust police because they too have been profiled and labeled by others for the langauge they speak. But to take matters to another level, my neighbors won’t allow Halloween because it would exclude me because of phone apps available from the NC Attorney General that direct parents to avoid particular addresses of registrants. So, in turn, they have kicked out the long standing tradition citing, “if one is excluded, then everyone is excluded.” This is an awesome gift from my 38+ neighbors and homes!

To demonstrate how committed my neighbors are, the public school notified parents a few months ago that the bus stop directly in front of my home was to be relocated elsewhere because I was on the registry. Parents, knowingly aware of my registry status, refused to relocate their children to another stop, citing safety concerns of high-speed traffic which was true. They all pushed back to the school system where the bus stop remains in front of my house claiming they the school had no right to interfear in community affairs. One neighbor said, “the bus driver doesnt have to do anything but pick up and drop off my children. If the bus driver has a problem with it, then get another bus driver!” By the way, all the kids wave at me randomly in the morning when walking to the bus stop. Isn’t this they way communities should be for all? I am not the guy on the sex registry. I am a human treated like any another human that so happens to be on the sex registry for something with an adult almost a decade ago. Amazingly, not one parent was in opposition to moving the school bus stop and dropoff back to my house. It demonstrates that not everyone is consumed with the fear selling tactics of government telling others who and how you may interact with others.

Additionally, most Latino and Hispanic cultures think that Halloween intrudes upon a sacred holiday to honor the dead called “All Souls Day.” So our neighbors will be cooking some rather exciting dishes to celebrate. Of course, I am invited to take part in the festivities. Such demonstrations of good faith and neighborly friendships are how communities should be for all. It is a shame that the rest of the nation cannot follow the examples of others that not only risked their lives to settle in a new country but also protect a fellow American to rid of social stigma. Perhaps Latinos and Hispanics understand the consequences of the registry better than the average American? At least that is my understanding. But having neighbors like this shows that there is hope that we may look after one another despite having a language, cultural, or other barriers that seems so far apart but really arent.

I should make a bumper sticker for my car that reads, “¡Mis vecinos son mejores que tus vecinos!” which translates to “My neighbors are better than your neighbors!”

Church on the Decline

Growing up as a child I attended church and Sunday school.  I grew up in a family that didn’t regularly go to church but I went occasionally with my grandma or would go with friends. Because I had a diverse group of friends from various denomination backgrounds, I was exposed to many religious services. However, when it came to Sunday school the message was simple and clear to “treat one another the way you wanted to be treated.”  I am sure there were higher level adult conversations in other Sunday classrooms with elders and mature audiences with churches, but I keep reflecting back to when did the message of “treat one another” lose its path or meaning? 

At these various churches there were activities such as church softball teams, piano lessons, choir, arts, baking, youth fellowship, Boy and Girl Scouts, summer trips, and the list goes on. Despite being mostly a visitor at the time I was welcomed, treated as a member, and provded opportunities to grow with that particular community. The elders of the church and Sunday school teachers were just that – teachers. Nearly everyone I encountered at a young age was a school teacher somewhere in the community. It was perhaps the first time that I could see the “real” them versus the school teacher role. 

Without attempting to sound stereotypical, there were male choir directors that presented effeminate mannerisms, but we still listened to what they said and were coached to sing on key – or close as possible. Nobody in any of the congregations made reference to being mindful or become concerned because of their traits. Again, the emphasis was placed to treat others the way we wanted to be treated. 

Somewhere along high school when Reagan became president the tone of the church significantly changed. It was as if a national purge was taking place. There was no longer room for anyone politically, socially, or different. The softball teams, arts, choir, summer trips, Boy and Girl scouts, baking, arts, and so on were abruptly ending. 

There was a new surge by the far-right and conservative to bring order and controls back to the church – all while blaming homosexuality as the demise of Christianity. However, from my perspective and viewpoint I was witnessing a witch hunt of labeling anyone slightly effemenient or butch to be associates or associated with the gay/lesbian community. The irony is that the far-right actually was the demise of religious attendance in America for failing to treat others as they would themselves. 

Whenever the country appears to be on the brink of turmoil or divided there are religious leaders or far right voices that exclaim blames to homosexuality or liberal thinking. It became so problematic that churches began directly asking members and visitors if they were practicing gay or lesbians. Today that practice is no longer widely used. However, congregations have begun implementing background checks on members for various reasons. To me, any church or religion with a background check shouldn’t be considered a church. Again, churches are losing its own faith to follow how to treat, respect, and welcome others as you would like to be treated. 

Perhaps all individuals should be reminded the valuable lesson of “treat others the way you want to be treated?”

Protect and Serve

Law enforcement careers are perhaps the most difficult to maintain. Many criminal and civil matters require attention and proper procedure. Over the past few years, our nation has witnessed a severe decline in public trust and confidence in typical police situations. Personally, I have respect for the badge but losing faith in how specific police procedures were and are handled. Deep down I am attempting to replenish my soul with support for those that wear the badge to keep my community safe by being an active advocate of my community. But I question if law enforcement, in general, has become too large of an enterprise business to handle the population for which it serves?

Decades ago the Los Angelas Police Department introduced the motto, “Protect and Serve.” That slogan was designed to serve as a mantra to regaining public trust within its community by maintaining a constant relationship with its people. Other law enforcement agencies began to implement the same slogan as a uniformed message that its department too, is accountable to the community. But I have a serious question about the literal belief of “protect and serve?” Isn’t Protect and Serve a universal statement of equality to servicing the community? There are programs to keep kids off the streets funded by many police agencies. But what about plans to prevent felons, first offenders, the homeless, mentally ill, sex offenders, race relations, LGBT, or other programs that make up a community? There are a sprinkling of departments that implement such programs but rarely do law enforcement agencies indeed protect and serve equally. The fact is that police have a business plan to surveil, investigate, create sting operations, traps and sometimes entrapments to snare wrongdoers. Wouldnt it be more cost effective and efficient if that protect and serve motto was put to the test to reconnect with the community and find some answers or redirection methods? Isn’t that what sociology and criminal justice degrees are intended to facilitate?

Perhaps a reason that law enforcement has grown and social worker jobs have declined is because there is a business model in place to keep offender growth high levels. It seems somewhat humorous that when a police chief speaks to a community about how its department has helped reduce crime, there always seems to be a motion for more money and resources for the growing threat to “out of control crime” in the area. It is somewhat like having a sale on an item only to mark it down but suddenly raise the price claiming the thing is about to run out. It is an amusing game that citizens should take a more significant look at.

Let’s face facts, police departments are too big and widely overfunded. Officers cannot be social workers, mental health physicians, community outreach, therapists, cat rescuers, and homeless advocates at the same time. But that is the design Americans have developed and wonder why mental health is a back burner? But law enforcement can be a resource to help facilitate and redirect to those programs. That is where protect and serve can be put to practical use. Instead of harassing sex offenders about homeless situations or where they can live or work one would think that protect and serve mantra would help an individual to assimilate to the community. Instead, police have unintentionally created its own barrier to communities by using rhetoric such as, “if you didn’t commit that crime you wouldn’t be in this situation.” The fact is that citizens help pay the salaries of police officers are sometimes the very ones left behind because nobody is protecting and serving that part of the community. To me, that is one of the reasons there is a low level of confidence with police. An officer substantiates and determines credibility by using a police check rather than trying to connect and find common ground. If police departments want to save some money, replace protect and serve with I only protect and serve if it comes over the radio. At least that is more realistic to today’s cultural standards.

Law enforcement is the first line of duty and protection of a community. Decades of growth and planning have increased agency funding taking away from social workers, qualified therapists, and dedicated physicians. Perhaps its time to trim police budgets and put that money into programs that help transition a community in need. Funding social worker agencies can and will help reduce recidivism rates. There should never be a fear of a badge to help another human being. Removing that badge and replacing with a listening person without an agenda that could lead to criminal charges is an excellent first step and reducing our enormous prison and probation population.  Maybe now is the time to reassess protect and serve by allowing those with better qualifications to do their jobs rather than police.

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