Sunday, August 29, 2010

In The Virginian-Pilot 8.29.2010


by Lisa Suhay
WHEN WE first came from rural New Jersey to Norfolk, I was a wreck over choosing a safe neighborhood. Seeing the newspapers of late, I can empathize with incoming college students, their parents and other new residents rattled by daring daylight crimes.
Somehow, crime in daylight is more scary than nighttime crime because we’re more careful and mentally prepared for someone to spring from the dark alley than through our door at lunchtime.
In recent weeks, we’ve heard about a shooting blocks from Old Dominion University, a bank heist on Granby Street and another shooting in Norfolk, all in daylight.
During our house-hunting days, I remember looking at crime statistics to divine the safest place to live. That’s dicey because you need to factor in population, police response times and other math-like things.
The problem is that when people look at where to live, go to school, create a business or retire, the decision is more than whether the area or neighborhood is actually safe. It’s whether you feel safe in the area that counts.
I live right behind ODU, and I volunteer at the Lambert’s Point Community Center, a gorgeous, new, peaceful, well-run facility that just happens to be a few blocks from the site of the latest shooting. It’s within walking distance of the home where I am raising four boys.
I still feel safe today because I know my neighborhood and have faith in campus police and Norfolk police (I work with the Crime Prevention Unit at the community center). And I take jiu-jitsu with my kids. So I am alert but not constantly afraid. Jitsu, by the way, does not work on bullets. For that, you need police and common sense.
However, with all that, I will sleep better if and when the city and ODU create a joint police station on Hampton Boulevard, nearly at the back door of the community center. Renovating The Inn, a former hotel that’s now a dormitory, into a new police headquarters for the university and a new 3rd precinct for Norfolk police is a smart move on many levels.
If this really comes to pass, Norfolk police officers will not have to be dispatched from the Huntersville Station all the way over on Tidewater Drive.
Councilman Paul Riddick is fighting the new station because he sees it as one more perk for the neighborhood where council members and other “movers and shakers” live. I am glad he agrees that the at-risk children and families of Lambert’s Point and other neighboring sections should be movers and shakers in this world, because I have a heck of a time getting volunteers to help with the Hip-Hop Chess-Bullyproof program when they read about shootings two blocks away.
Riddick may not be aware that in Lambert’s Point, the community center doubles as a kind of free day care for those who need to work but can’t afford child care for their kids. Not only is the struggling area victimized by crime, it is also stereotyped as the source of all crime.
One 5-year-old walks to the center every day, on his own, through a section some adults won’t drive through. At lunch, he walks to Taco Bell with some 10-year-olds. His mom is a good mom, but she has to work to survive, and her child’s routine is common for many in our city. This neighborhood needs the solid, immediate presence of police there to help it get past a cycle of violence.
Again, it comes down to what feels “safe” being vital to both the victims and the bad guys. It feels safer knowing the ODU police have the Norfolk police backup right at hand. It feels safer knowing ODU and the city are communicating as partners when it comes to our safety and that of our entire community’s children.
Maybe if those involved in the commission of violent crimes feel unsafe, outnumbered and outflanked anywhere in our city, we won’t have as much crime to fret about.

Guest columnist Lisa Suhay is a children’s book author and an organizer of the Hip-Hop Chess Federation and Bullyproof programs in Norfolk. E-mail:

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