Community? Fear? What’s going on here?

November 16, 2009

As many folks already know, Oscar Fuentes, a nine year old boy, was killed in his apartment on Saturday night on the 1400 block of Columbia Road.


My relationship with murder and killing, having grown up in Columbia Heights is very clearly a complicated one. I remember waking up to gun shots (hell, I still do), and more than once the victims of the bullets that fly in the city have hit people who were very close to me. This is not an experience that I regularly find kinship through in my middle-class college educated non-profit employed reality. It’s difficult to process, I’m not going to lie, and I’m not sure whether or not the “change” or the “progress” that’s gone down in the neighborhood has really had any effect on my sense of physical safety in Columbia Heights. I live on a high crime street, and since moving in 9 months ago, there have been at least 6 shootings on my block, one of which involved a machine gun.

These experiences are not earth shattering to me anymore. Yes, I feel for the family who lost their son. Hell, I even feel for the person whose life has diverged so far from the socially respected that he shot a 9 year old boy and will spend the rest of their life in the prison system. I feel bad about the situation all and all, but there’s something about all of this that’s making me really really uncomfortable.

This shooting is all over the blogosphere, but “the fact that something like this could happen” isn’t what’s concerning me in this moment. My housemate sent me an email this morning with an article about the shooting from WaPo. She highlighted the last paragraph of the article, which I will share with you now:

“If they talk to me, I say hi and keep walking,” he said, carrying a just-purchased leather Bible cover emblazoned with a white dove. Ortega said some nearby neighborhoods have improved while others have lagged. His son is also 9 years old. He won’t let him walk to school by himself. (link)

In the spirit of full disclosure, this quote is from Pedro Ortega who was talking about his interactions with drug dealers. But, here’s the deal: drug dealers are not always evident. In fact, I’m fairly sure (let’s not go into why) drug dealers try to make themselves reasonably inconspicuous.

I’m in a place right now where I’m working through what it means to be a good neighbor in the world that I like to imagine. I think that engaging with people genuinely, or you know, trying to at least, is really central to that project. I talk to people on the street. Yes, they may be asking me for money, or a cigarette, I’m give them what I can at that moment if it’s evident that they need the couple of bucks in my wallet more than I do, because if I was in that situation I would hope that someone would do something similar for me. My understanding of the community that I want to live in, although always developing, growing, and expanding, hinges on things like accountability, communication, and trust.

Now, I know that this all seems lofty and damned near impossible in any urban context, right? Well, this might have to do partially with the fact that I’ve spent a lot of time in small-town America in my life. I know that this sounds damned near insane in the context of Columbia Heights, but I think that it’s important to, at the very least ask why there is so much animosity and fear goin’ down in the area. Is this because of the massive influx of middle to upper class residents? Is this because many white folks hold onto deeply ingrained racist ideologies unwittingly? Is this because folks of color are threatened and angry by both of these factors and not managing that well?

What’s going on here, folks? Why do we separate when terrible things happen, rather than come together? Is it just fear? Is fear the problem with Columbia heights? Fear of displacement? Fear or dark skinned people? Fear of power? Fear of the rich? Fear of the police? Fear of the criminals? So, now I just need to work on thinking about how to get folks to overcome that fear?


Maybe a conversation in documentary format?


Let me know if you dig what I’m saying on this blog- I’d like to actually talk to you or email with you about your experiences in Columbia Heights to see if you would be a good candidate for the film.




One Response to “Community? Fear? What’s going on here?”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by liz whitehurst. liz whitehurst said: on saturday's shooting: […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: