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under siege
the green, green fields of home
by louise arnold

I'm on about my fifth cup of tea, my third bout of tears, and very much at the end of my tether.

I love my home. It's small, and prone to condensation, and how I long for a place with stairs, but it's home. My own little corner of England. I have a little garden (large enough for me to neglect tomatoes and herbs in), a large enough kitchen, and space enough to toddle about in. My neighbours are nice -- we don't get together, drink horlicks, and having a knitting circle, but they are all good people. So why the tears?

I feel like I'm under siege. Our street is a little unadopted road (a kind way of saying the local council don't want to know.) There are no street lights, enough dog shit to give every child in a ten mile vicinity worms, and about the same amount of indecipherable graffitti as your average inner city alleyway. This morning, I found my car window smashed in, and little tell-tale indentations around the edge to show that they have at least attempted silent theft before giving up and going for broken glass. I've had to replace FIVE car tyres in the last three months -- one only two hours after the last one was replaced -- each tyre stabbed in such a way as to be irreperable, and also so it slowly goes down, often leaving you far enough from home to cause difficulties, or struggling for steering control on busy roads. A stolen car was crashed, in broad daylight, outside my home not too long ago, the kids who did it not even bothering to disguise the act, instead boldly parading up and down the street, hollering and laughing. I've had burning joint butts thrown through open windows. I've had gangs of youths assembling on my doorstep. The woman opposite had a brick thrown through her window in broad daylight. The woman up the road from me has had six car tyres stabbed. A man around the corner had his garden trespassed in, and his motorbike near destroyed. A friend of mine, walking to my house, was grabbed from behind and sexually assualted. Half an hour later, the same unknown man grabbed another young woman, and did the same.

Nobody seems to want to know. The police will call back within 24 - 48 hours. They will, again, give me a crime report number, smile softly, nod understandingly, before leaving me in exactly the same situation as before. I've written to the council, who pass me around like a game of pass the parcel, except the music never seems to stop. I've written directly to my local MP, who is a stony wall of silence, and who seems to only exist in smiling local newspaper articles, hugging school kids, and promising change. I've written to the roads department, begging them to make our road an adopted one, and yet again, I get passed from post to post, with nobody seeming to want to pick up the buck.

I'm tired of it. I'm tired of talking to people down the phone, straining to stop my voice from faltering, begging them to help. I'm tired of what little money I have being slowly eaten away with other people's criminality. I'm tired of feeling like I'm invisible, or if nothing else, not worthy of note.

It feels like the police exist to catalogue crime, and not to solve or prevent it. That the council exist to eat my council tax, and then doctor statistics to make it look like they're shitting out something useful with it.

And I know I'm not alone. I know, the length and breadth of this country, there are so many people in the same position. Feeling under siege. Feeling like we're raising nests of utterly lawless, feral children, who really do not need to fear any repercussions from the law. From experience, they know they can steal cars in brightest daytime, vandalise, intimidate, trespass and hunt in packs without the slightest fear of any come backs. And if this is true of them as youths, then what adults are we building?


A work in progress.

more about louise arnold


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juli mccarthy
7.2.04 @ 1:27p

It's not just England, although I'm sure that's not a lot of comfort to you. There seems to be an insidious feeling of "ignore it and it will go away." Or in the case of a bad neighborhood, "Hell, let them blow one another up. It's not like it would be a loss..." I have no advice, except to say keep phoning, keep writing, keep making noise. The last thing "they" want is exposure of their negligence.

russ carr
7.2.04 @ 1:41p

Have you considered creating a posse of your (nice enough) neighbors and demanding the floor at a local councillors' meeting? I realise they may turn the same deaf ear yet again, but there's something to be said for protest en masse. Accost the poor soul sent to cover the meeting, if such a soul exists, and browbeat him into working your complaints into his article, or at least getting you in touch with a larger media outlet. Sometimes the only way to ensure action is to shame those responsible into doing something. Make a big enough stink of it in the press, and you might find they're more motivated.

sloan bayles
7.2.04 @ 1:50p

This may be a worthless suggestion, but what about a "Neighborhood Watch" program. I know it has at least helped similar situations here. I realize it's very easy to tell you not to be dismayed, but not very helpful. Can you and your neighbors petition the local government? Make collective noise, as Juli has said?

juli mccarthy
7.2.04 @ 1:54p

Our so-called Neighborhood Watch program is, like Louise's, very good at watchig stuff happen. As for prevention or punishment - not so hot.

sloan bayles
7.2.04 @ 1:58p

There are situations in which vigilante options should be imposed.

tracey kelley
7.2.04 @ 2:09p

I agree:

1) Make flyers and pass them out to everyone within a 5 block radius. Get the neighborhood united to attend meetings, petition for more regular patrols, consider posting 2-3 people as shift "lookouts".

2) Write a letter to the editor about the state of crime / the lack of police attention. Contact 2 or 3 local reporters and tangle the possibility of a 5-part crime series at them.

3) Get a cap gun. I"m serious. Fire off "shots" every now and again. Make sure the neighbors know about it, and maybe they can get off a couple as well. At some point, some asshole is going to be trying to take tires, see someone point a 'gun' at them, and think twice. These punks think they've taken over the neighborhood - they need to understand that your neighborhood is about to take it back.

I read an article a couple of years ago about a senior citizen who "cleaned" up her neighborhood by going out on her front stoop with a broom and hitting the punks with it, telling them they weren't going to do and sell drugs in her neighborhood. She tracked down what parents or guardians these rugrats had and told them there would be consequences. It took 2 years, but damned if she didn't help turn the neighborhood around. For some reason, the punks never thought of her as a victim, and actually respected her efforts. I think that's half the problem -

- but sometimes, a cap gun is more effective.

russ carr
7.2.04 @ 3:22p

The cap gun thing might be a tad difficult, Tracey; this is England, after all. I don't think I saw any kind of toy guns in any of the shops when I lived there.

Ah, but a quick google brings up shop.joke.co.uk, a costume and toy place, which sells cap guns.

Still...hmm...if it's the same group, they're going to realise fairly quickly that there are no bullets coming at them.

robert melos
7.23.04 @ 12:15a

Suddenly I realize I do live in the safest and most sheltered community on the planet. What you're describing would be considered a major crime spree in my hometown, and the police would be harassing every kid walking down the street until the parents started to complain, and they would stop complaining once a kid was caught doing something, because the parents would be the ones being sued by the victim of the crime.

And to think, I sometimes hate my hometown. I don't understand the police not taking action. They over-react in America.

tracey kelley
7.23.04 @ 10:11a

We need an update from you, chicka. What's happened with this issue?

louise arnold
7.23.04 @ 10:36a

Well, here's the update. I've been given a crime diary! And so now, whenever I experience crime, I write it down in my crime diary, and eventually I hand it in to the council who have a look at it and decide what to do. What a joyous event. I've also been told that if I'm to sell my house, I have to make the new owners aware of every single incident of crime I've suffered (bang goes my property value). So, I'm encouraged to report crime, although it isn't investigated, and such reports actually devalue my home, and when I reach a certain amount of crime I get given a photocopied scrap of A4 paper on which to collect all my crime, which I then eventually hand in.

I'm sure the police and the council would like to do more, but juvenile crime isn't worth doing. You spend longer filling out paperwork than the kids do being told off. The worst thing is though, beyond what adults these children are turning into, I worry what kind of person all this is turning ME into.


sandra thompson
7.25.04 @ 3:41p

Robert, you obviously live in a "good" neighborhood, because people in "bad" neighborhoods have the same experiences as Louise, even here in the good old U S of A. We need more police, we need more youth detention facilities and more youth rehabilitation facilities and most of all more EDUCATION, more parenting classes, damned near more of everthing, but we've got wars to fight and cold war weapons systems to produce and when it comes to guns or butter, guess what always wins out? And always remember that universal healthcare in Iraq is good policy, but universal healthcare in the USA is socialism.

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