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Hate speech, crimes in Kentlands demand action, leadership

"... thou shalt not be a bystander"

It seems impossible that the sentencing of Kayla Norton and Jose Torres to a combined 19 years in prison for a crime committed in Georgia could be an important part of a Crier article.

But it is.

Norton and Torres were part of a white supremacist gang who spent two days rampaging through the Atlanta area shouting racial slurs and waving the Confederate flag. Obnoxious, yes, a crime, maybe. But when Norton loaded a shotgun and handed it to Torres and Torres used it to threaten people at a black 8-year-old’s birthday party in July of 2015, arrests were made. Norton and Torres ended up in jail.

There were no weapons involved but on Sunday, February 26th of this year, the kind of vitriol that Norton and Torres displayed, the kind of vitriol that has been released in our national political discourse, was on full display in Kentlands. Two young males in a car driven by a young female told a group of five of our community’s children to “go away,” and shouted the most vile racial slurs at the children. This happened at the corner of Thaxton and Chestertown while the kids were headed to the Clubhouse; the oldest of the children is only 11.

As shocking as this report might be, it cannot be seen as unique. There are reports of verbal taunting and harassment at Rachel Carson Elementary and bullying, with hate-crime overtones because it may be based on sexuality, at Quince Orchard. There was serious vandalism at Shaare Torah in Lakelands in April 2015. Other vandalism, including the spate of “egging” in a variety of locations throughout Kentlands and Lakelands on Friday night, February 24th, no longer seems unusual. From February 22nd through March 5th, there were 20 or so incidents that involved the police, 13 of which were thefts, and around Kentlands according to mylocalcrime.com.

The police have identified several suspects in the egging incident, possibly based on homeowner surveillance footage, but no arrests have been made as of this writing.

Decrying this kind of behavior is easy. The problem is that those who read the Crier and visit our website are unlikely to be the miscreants who are doing these things. It is possible that some, or even all, of the guilty parties do not live here. Even in the case that the perpetrators do live here, the parents involved might be unable to associate their son or daughter with such vile actions.

In the larger sense, however, being outraged as we are and expressing that outrage accomplishes little. Yehuda Bauer wrote “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”

It is time to stop standing by. It is time to take action. Neighborhood Watch is an excellent tool for doing that.

Neighborhood Watch is an old and very effective crime prevention program. It achieves success by linking citizen awareness with law enforcement action. Citizens organize themselves and work with law enforcement to keep a trained eye and ear on their communities. It works because it reduces the criminal’s opportunities to hurt or damage or steal rather than focusing on changing the criminal’s behavior.

Neighborhood Watch depends on one person and everybody else. The one person does the organizing, coordinates efforts with the police, recruits everyone else, and holds meetings to organize and plan and train those willing to help.

Everyone else simply goes about their daily routine with heightened awareness. Joggers jog, dog walkers walk, bicyclists cycle, people at home enjoy the view from their windows. Proper surveillance camera setup can provide the clue that leads to an arrest. Cell phone video has become a common part of the evidence law enforcement has to work with. “See something, say something” are the bywords, it takes no more than a phone call to the police non-emergency number for suspicions or to 9-1-1 if something serious is occurring.

The Kentlands Citizens Assembly is ready to help; we have infrastructure, a Clubhouse, the Carriage House, contacts with the City, plenty of knowledge to share, the Crier and the Express email, and oh so much more.

Now all we need is for that one person (and everyone else) to choose to no longer be bystanders.

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