Before reading this post, you may want to read the post, Before You Call the Police on Your Neighbor, to establish some context.
So far every response to my blog post about someone calling the police on my family instead of knocking on my door to express their apparent concern for my dog has been supportive. Some people have even expressed gratitude for addressing an issue that is prevalent in our society—involving police in issues that could easily be resolved by simply engaging our neighbors. So all in all, I’m glad that I wrote the post. However, because I am a Black man reflecting on, what I consider to be, an unnecessary police interaction, having this discussion openly brings us quickly to the intersection of infinite lines of relational complexity.
In the previous post, I addressed some of those complexities. But there is no way to answer them all or legitimize or delegitimize every point of view until we arrive at some conclusive understanding of the caller’s motivations or my response to them. When it comes down to it, because I don’t know who called the police or their story about why they made that choice, there are more unknowns than knowns in this situation. And unless the person chooses to reveal themselves and have an honest conversation about that choice and I openly and vulnerably share with them my perspective, the two of us will only have to rely on our individual narratives, which is precisely how these types of situations are created in the first place.
The Neighborly Thing to Do
If you have come this far and haven’t read the previous post, you may want to go back and read it now. Because, it will help clarify the purpose of this follow up to see the differences between what I wrote on my blog and what I wrote on my neighborhood’s Facebook page.
In the time between initially seeing the police slowing down in front of my house and deciding to write the Facebook post, I talked it out at home, I talked it out with my Womanist Spiritual Director, I talked it out with a childhood friend, and I talked it out with a neighbor who I spend time with. And above all, I talked it out with God. Everyone agreed that I should say something. The question was how I could do it in a responsible way that both expressed my personal convictions and disappointment while also leaving the door open to learning and possible community building.
After reflecting on my conversations and meditating on it, I wrote what is below. To the degree that I could, I imagined what I could have possibly done prior to this situation to present myself as someone who was open to having neighbors knock on my door. I also accounted for and took responsibility for the fact that prior to this happening I had expressed to my wife and dog my concern that someone might call the police if they saw Journey—a Siberian Husky by the way—sitting in the snow. When I first expressed concern about this possibility, I had considered writing a note and putting it on the fence or perhaps posting something on Facebook letting people know that Journey likes being out there. But I chose not to because I honestly didn’t know how much of my concern was a legitimate possibility versus my own projection as a Black man who has experienced race based discrimination.
So with all that in mind and considering all of the knowns and unknowns, I decided that I would formally introduce Journey and myself to the community through Facebook just in case it was indeed one of my immediate neighbors who called. Since on that day, I saw the arm of someone directing the police toward my house, I knew that if I didn’t address it directly, I would be doing Journey and my family a disservice if I didn’t speak up in some way. So this is what I wrote:
Because of an experience I had a couple days ago, I want to take a moment to introduce myself. Perhaps I should have introduced myself more formally to this group when I first joined. But, I didn’t so I am making up for it now in the hopes that people might feel comfortable knocking on my door or reaching out to me if they want to talk to me about anything.
My name is Pedro. And my friend in the picture with me is my dog, Journey. She is a Siberian Husky and will be 15 years old in March. That’s like 100 dog years! But she looks young for her age. She is friendly but a little nervousy and she likes her meals cooked with beef, rices, greens, a little pumpkin and fish oils if I have them as seen in the picture. She also likes to talk in a strange Husky voice that is hard to describe but recognizable if you’ve ever heard one of them speak. If you have ever had one, you know what I mean.
One of her favorite things that she says to me roughly translates to, “Pedro, put me on the line outside so I can hang out in the snow.” Personally, I think it is a little cold. But she knows what she wants. And often when I try to pull her in, she digs in her heels and resists because when she is ready to come in she makes her weird talking sound to let me know.
Ever since the snow started falling, I’ve told her, “Journey, I know you like being in the snow. But someone might think I’m neglecting you and call the police on me.” She told me that I was being silly. But a couple of days ago, the police were called just as I predicted.
Now we are in a quandary. She keeps going to the door and nudging me and speaking her language even after I take her for a walk. She just doesn’t get it though. You see, even though I saw the arm of the person pointing the police toward our house, I don’t actually know who it was. So, I can’t explain to them what I am explaining to you all up here.
Therefore, for Journey’s sake, I am asking that if I end up giving in to her demands and putting her on the line that you please knock on my door or reach out to me through Facebook before calling the police.
I will acknowledge that there is a chance that it was someone who was walking through our neighborhood that may have called. I actually would prefer that was the case. But just in case, I am letting you all know who I am and a little about Journey.
The police took our information in case they are called again. And the animal control officer said that 90+% of the calls they’ve received about dogs out in the snow are for Huskies. So, I know I have company. So logically, I know it’s okay for me to put her out. But emotionally, I’m still pretty hesitant.
If you read this and happen to be the person who called, it would have been my preference not to post this up here. But I had to weigh the chances of the police being called again and my own feelings of walking through the neighborhood not knowing who called and wondering if they are going to do it again.
I know this is getting a little long. But one last thing. I want you to know I understand that the person had good intentions. That is not in dispute. I just wish we lived in a world where neighbors felt secure checking in with each other. So this is my olive branch toward that end.
Again, I take some responsibility for not putting myself out more. I probably should’ve introduced myself sooner. There’s a few people in the neighborhood who I’ve hung out with. Maybe they can vouch for me that I’m someone you can talk to without police intervention. If you want to get to know me better, feel free to DM me. Just know, that if I ever feel the need to reach out to anyone here, I will knock on your door and introduce myself. I guess I’m old school like that.
Where it gets complicated
I still don’t know who called the police. I may never know. And the fact is, it doesn’t really matter to me at this point unless that person wants to have an honest conversation. By posting this message on my neighborhood’s Facebook page, I learned that a good number of the people see Journey in the snow and appreciate her presence. I learned that there are other people with snow dogs who can totally relate to our relationship to Journey. I learned that there have been other instances where people called police officers rather than talk to their neighbors. And, I was even able to joke about it with a few of the people who I know by insinuating that they called simply because I know that they never would’ve done it. But most importantly, we were able to start a discussion about getting to know our neighbors and reaching out.
What was obviously missing in my message to the neighborhood but was held in my blog post was the race factor. And there was a reason for that that I will get into in the video below. But before you click on the video, I want to say that I do not consider myself a victim in this situation. The fact, that I cannot repeat enough, is that I don’t know who called the police and I don’t know their story. For many people, especially those who know me, this situation will be immediately about my race. But I can’t come at it from that perspective as far as the caller is concerned. That’s why I didn’t bring it up in my message to my neighborhood.
I will say that given the demographics of this area, the chances are high that it was someone who identifies as White. But that doesn’t mean the person knows that I am Black. And as far as I know, the police who responded didn’t know I am Black until I answered the door. And once they did know, we still had a courteous exchange. The only person in the scenario who I can say for certain knows what it feels like to be Black and see the police coming up to your door is me. So I had to make choices about how to respond based on that as it pertains to me and my family and my level of comfort to walk around the neighborhood and foster community. My hope is that if most of my neighbors read the Facebook post and my blog, they would have the sensitivity in this day and age to see the equal validity of both expressions. And if the person who called the police reads both, I would hope that they would grow from the experience just as I am growing from it.
But what if…
Now let’s talk about the elephants who stampeded the room. Despite my diplomacy, there is a chance that the person who called knows exactly who I am, is a racist, and is the reason the police rolled by when my Black friends were waiting for me outside of my house. The fact is that there are intentionally racist folks around here. And there are also people with unconscious bias who will feel the need to suspect me and people who look like me of negative traits and won’t even know that they are doing it or why. As I said, I have been Black all of my life and I have dealt with and seen almost every expression of racism that is out there even down to having to run from a White man who was chasing me through the night as a teenager. I’ll say it again. There are racist folks out there. But I don’t know if the person who called the police is one of them. Does it absolve this event from the tentacles of what we often call systemic racism. No it doesn’t. But that is not going to be solved in two blog posts. What I do think will go a long way toward changing things is creating a new system based in radical neighborliness. And that ultimately is what these two posts are about.
Pleasing some people some of the time
At the end of the day, I know that my response to this situation is incomplete. There will be some people who will take this as an opportunity to grow, reflect, and put in the work to foster neighborliness. There will be some who will be upset because I brought up race and there will be people who will be upset because they’ll feel I didn’t talk about race enough. There will be some people who will incorrectly assume that the way I’m handling it is the best way to handle these situations (This is simply a way among many others). And there will be some people who have been on the receiving end of racism who might feel that my response is just another example of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) placating fragile people. Again, I’ve been Black all of my life. Ultimately though, this is just one person having a one sided conversation that I’m making public in order to foster real conversation. Whatever you get out of this, I hope it encourages you to ask more questions about your personal motivations and to take conversational risks. Because the more we learn about each other, the more equipped we become to create systems and processes that foster true neighborliness for everyone.
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”Jesus