There Goes the Neighborhood

When the city of Dallas decided to redevelop an abandoned store, several hundred people hit the warpath. They organized pickets, handed out leaflets, and posted signs to protest the project. "They want to sacrifice the neighborhood," said an angry mother. Sacrifice it for what? For movie theaters, it turned out. The city wanted to build an 18-screen "Tinseltown" on the site. But residents refused to budge. Movie theaters attract too many teenagers, said one mother. "We're afraid of gangs," said another. The reaction surprised city officials, who expected residents to welcome efforts to spruce up the derelict site. But zoning experts say it's part of a new pattern. Fear of crime looms so large today that even formerly innocuous places like movie theaters are seen as threats to the community. Two years ago in Overland Park, Kansas, neighbors blocked plans to include basketball and volleyball courts in a park. The courts would attract too many teenagers, residents said. Last year in Durham, North Carolina, residents blocked plans to route a greenbelt through their neighborhood, including a jogging path and a nature trail. The path would attract too many outsiders, residents said. A few months ago in North Miami Beach, residents contracted with a planning company to identify legal strategies for banning laundromats, Western Union offices, and car washes. These businesses draw too many outsiders to the area, residents said. "Not in my backyard" has become the new refrain in communities frightened by crime. It's an attitude we used to see expressed only when cities proposed to build things like gambling casinos, which are notorious for attracting the criminal element. But today people are turning thumbs down even on things that, by getting neighbors out together, ordinarily serve as a deterrent to crime. As one puzzled city planner told the Wall Street Journal, communities where people interact are generally safer. What these examples tell us is that panic over crime has reached destructive proportions. People are so fear-stricken that they're willing to shut down community services that in better times they would have welcomed. For Christians, this means there is no time to lose in hammering out a biblical approach to crime—before our communities are eaten up by fear. We need to take active, positive steps like the ones I've been talking about over the past several days here on "BreakPoint." Christians ought to take the lead in organizing Neighborhood Watch programs, challenging people to take responsibility for one another. We ought to take the lead in proposing real criminal justice reform, challenging criminals to change their lives through educational programs, through victim-offender reconciliation programs, and most of all through Bible study and personal discipleship. Why don't you order Prison Fellowship's new book Staying Safe, which is chock-full of practical suggestions for fighting crime—from securing your home to volunteering in prison. Don't wait until your community has turned down a new basketball court or jogging path. Find out now about positive strategies for fighting crime.


Chuck Colson


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