Before You Call the Police On Your Neighbor

Yesterday someone called the police on me because they were apparently concerned for my dog, Journey, who was in the backyard laying in the snow. Giving the person the benefit of the doubt, I imagine that they feel like they were doing something of a kindness toward Journey. The officers who did the welfare check communicated to me that the person who reported me thought that Journey looked like she might be sick. So I can only imagine that out of their concern, they felt like the best way to handle the imagined situation was to call the police. But I can think of another way. They could ring my doorbell instead of having the police do it. Had they done that, I would have told them a number of things such as:

  • Journey will be 15 years old in March even though she looks very young for her age.
  • Journey is a Siberian Husky. That means that she loves the snow and her breed can actually work in temperatures of up to -76 degrees in Arctic winters. And yes, that is a negative sign.
  • We have cooked for Journey twice a day for over 14 years. And I’m talking a diet of beef, rice, power greens, kale, tuna, pumpkin, Spirulina powder, fish oil, etc. There are nights where I’ve eaten a handful of chips and my kids’ leftovers and Journey still gets her cooked meal.
  • If we go out of town and can’t take Journey, I will cook and freeze her meals for as long as we’ll be gone.
  • We took Journey on a one month road trip from Boston to Vancouver Canada and back and still made her good meals.
  • Journey will bump and nudge and do her Husky talking until I put her out in the backyard and sometimes when I try to bring her in, she digs in her heels and refuses.
  • And I would have told my neighbor that I talk to Journey and I told her that her demands were going to get the cops called on me one day.
  • Being one of, if not the only, neighbor who identifies as Black and having my neighbors call the police on me for something that they could have asked me about is extremely disheartening. Most especially in 2020 in a neighborhood with its fair share of Black Lives Matter signs. Just saying.

When I woke up this morning after having thought about this experience several times throughout the night, I considered just letting it go like I have way too many things in my life. But as I was cooking my dog’s food, I started to get angry weighing everything written above. And then Journey started nudging me to let her go out into the snow. But I couldn’t get myself to do it. I just started thinking that whoever called the police on me might be watching and waiting to call again.

Later, while Journey and I were out on a walk, I found myself looking around wondering if this same unidentified neighbor was watching me and congratulating themselves. But as soon as I came back in from walking her, Journey went straight to the backdoor begging to go out. My wife tried to explain to me that we shouldn’t be concerned about it because we know how well we treat our dog and that the police know our situation now. As the officers had explained, 90+% of the calls they get about dogs outside in the cold concerns a Husky. But it still bothered me.

Even when I was out with my daughter pushing her in her stroller later in the afternoon, I kept zoning out thinking about the conversation I would’ve had with the person had they done the neighborly thing and just rang my doorbell. That’s time lost with my daughter as I kept running through the scenario in my head and wondering who it was that made the call. Was it someone I’ve met before? Have they seen me in the neighborhood? Did they know they were calling the police on a Black pastor? In the conversation I had with my wife, she asked me how I’d feel if the person didn’t know I am Black or if the person wasn’t one of our neighbors who identified as White or maybe someone who lives in the neighborhood that abuts ours. What I said to her was that it didn’t matter, because I know that I am Black and have to carry around both my lived experience and secondary trauma from watching police interactions with folks who look like me and people I love. And regardless of my race, I think people shouldn’t make calling the police a default for things that can be cleared up by just asking a question.

So where do we go from here?
I mainly wrote this post to both get my feelings off my heart, inform my neighbors should anyone decide to call the police again, and to liberate my dog who has been staring out the back porch door multiple times today and likely in days to come not understanding why I won’t let her out to enjoy herself.

As a secondary effect, I hope that anyone who reads this might consider how they interact with law enforcement. I’ve gotten into conversations with officers who’ve told me that they also would rather not to be called for things that people can handle among themselves. And of course, when race is involved it gets infinitely more complicated.

To My Neighbor,

I actually really hope that you didn’t know I was Black and that you know nothing about Huskies. And most especially, I hope you don’t have a Black Lives Matter sign in your yard while knowing that I’m Black. The saddest part for me in all of this is that I told my wife that I didn’t feel comfortable putting our dog out on the line because I was concerned that one of our neighbors would call the police. And you did. Just like when some of my friends got to my house before I did once and were waiting outside while Black. I rushed home because I was concerned that someone would call the police. And guess what? Just minutes after I got home, the police slowly rolled in front of my house. Fortunately, they did not knock that time because imagine the embarrassment if they found out they were doing a check on two Black pastors for no reason.

So Neighbor, please think about your decision to call the police. Since all I saw was your arm pointing the officers toward my house, you’re spared having to awkwardly engage me if we ever happen to meet. Know that I preemptively forgave you and any other people who might make these types of decisions before I ever chose to move here because I’ve been Black all of my life. And if you ever want to reveal yourself and talk about this, I won’t call you out. I’ll just treat you like a neighbor.

Sincerely,

Your Black Neighbor

Lastly, if anyone reading this is interested in developing the skills to have challenging conversations, I recommend checking out www.livingroomconversations.org. There you can find conversation guides on a variety of topics to include policing and a three part Race and Ethnicity series with a significant contribution by yours truly.

There is a follow-up to this post at the link below:

After Your Neighbor Calls the Police on You

12 replies »

  1. Dear Pedro—

    I am so pissed. And so sorry this happened. I’m also deeply grateful to you for writing about this experience—as I am every time I read your blog.

    My monitor rim holds a row of stickies with people’s names on it, including yours. It’s my prayer list, because this is place in my house where I spend most of my time. I hope all is well with your family and, especially, that things are going well for your mother. May this New Year be gentler for all of us.

    Peace, Linda

    The Rev. Canon Linda Taylor

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    • Blessings Linda. Thanks for the prayers. I am praying for you too. I know that we have a lot of bumps like this as we learn how to really live into what we put out into the world. Grace for the journey!

      Pedro and Journey

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      • Dear Black Neighbor, Pedro, and Journey,
        I love you both. I love your family. Reading what happened filled my soul with sorrow. Then I watched your video and you fill me with joy. I can’t believe your neighbor would see you and your lovely family and fill fear? Call the police? I just don’t understand people. It bothers my heart greatly that your family has been touched by such ugliness and will probably always will be. I am so saddened that Journey as ac“black” fur baby cannot go outside and enjoy the cold snow the way she was born to do. I am a Christian as well and I have been praying everyday for every soul to have kindness and joy to share with others and it just is not possible for some. I hope this person, whoever they are, will have the strength to come and apologize to you and Journey and your family. If you and Journey suffer, so does your wife and child and on from there. It passes on. I love you neighbor.

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        • Hi Kristen, thanks for taking the time to read and reflect and pray about our society. I’m going to write a follow up to this post as soon as I can. But I’ve been working on some other things. But, I will say that I am personally moved past this. My faith talks me that I’m to see God in my neighbors and love others as I love myself which included whoever called the police. I don’t know what taught them that this was the best way to respond and I don’t 100% know if they knew they were calling the police on a Black person. But what I’m certain of is that our society falls just short of discouraging us from getting to know each other and be neighborly and has done so seemingly forever. I think that’s why Jesus made such a big deal about loving our neighbors and not judging etc. So mostly I don’t want to focus on what the person did in terms of calling the police on me in particular. I just people to be encouraged to break out of conversational cowardice. Does that make sense? Love the neighbors.

          Peace

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          • Baha’u’llah wrote: The earth is one country and mankind its citizens. Surely that should make our neighbors part of our own families! And, of course, being family should/must make us want to know each other better and be kind and loving one to another.

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  2. I love that you named your dog Journey! And they you shared all the wonderful adventures together. What an incredible way of weaving in this important life lesson about our neighbours. (I am your neighbour to the north.. in Canada 🙂 And how important especially if your neighbour is Black. When we say we’re in this together. Be. In. It. Together. Grateful for your blog and your shares. Wishing you a weekend filled with peace. Dr. D ❤️

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  3. Dear Pedro — I am your neighbor too, not the one who called the police about your sweet dog — I am your neighbor on this planet, in this world during these days, and eternally through all the worlds of God. Keep the spirit of love in your heart and know you are loved by all who know you.

    From Sheila (in California), a Baha’i

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  4. Wow. I didn’t know this was going to go in the direction it did. I think it must be very sad, very painful, to live believing that others are treating you a certain way because of the color of your skin. God bless, and thanks for your excellent writing.

    P.S. My girls would love to meet you and your dog. They are all about natural diets for their cats and take up valuable space in my freezer with it!! (Their cats, sadly, would probably not like to meet your dog, as they have not had the pleasure of becoming familiar with that species).

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    • Hi Lorena,
      I feel more disappointment than sadness truthfully. But it is a productive disappointment that can be transformed into something positive. The people I actually feel sadder for are the people so burdened with existential fear that they cannot live with an open heart. They have been burdened with a crippling lie that some people are better or worse than others simply based on the color of their skin. Yes, that might seem unfortunate if you are Black or a person of color. But only if you believe it and invest to much of your self identity into trying to change the minds of people who would rather believe the worse about others than seek the best in themselves. I personally believe that the Creator has created each of us and sees us as being of inestimable worth. But we diminish ourselves and deny the reality of the Creator when we don’t put in the effort to see that in others.

      I have daughters too. But they are into rabbits. So I have bunnies and a dog running the house with the humans coming in second. LOL.

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