Friday, July 10, 2009

Minor Hit-And-Run Reveals "War Of Social Norms."

Photos By John Hoff

As far as crimes go, it was penny-ante stuff: a careless driver sideswiped a parked vehicle in the Hawthorne Neighborhood, then instinctively fled. This is not the kind of thing which even makes the police crime watch blog. But sometimes a very small incident can reveal very large social norms.

It happened a couple days ago, after dark. I was standing in front of my home, talking to a friend through her open car window, when a vehicle came careening down the avenue and sideswiped a parked car. My friend let loose a little screech, apparently thinking...

...her car was the next target, but the vehicle turned left on the avenue and kept going. Without even thinking about it, I pulled out my cell phone and ran in hot pursuit, chasing the vehicle most of a block. The next day I would pay the price in pain--I'm a disabled vet and one leg is shorter than the other, jammed up into my hip--but I was "acting in the moment."

The car didn't stop at first. I'm not sure why I kept chasing, since getting the license plate appeared hopeless. But then, suddenly, the car came to a halt. It was like the driver was waiting for me to come up to the window and ask, "What the hell?"

Well...I'm enthusiastic, but not stupid. I wasn't walking up to the window of a hit-and-run vehicle, alone at night, armed with only a cell phone. I walked close enough to get the license plate, then made a hasty retreat while calling 911. The car took off again.

Meanwhile, unknown to me, my friend still waiting in her vehicle had a conversation with an old woman, apparently a long-time resident of the neighborhood. Walking by, the old woman offered some free advice: 

Sometimes it's better to just "be careful" and "let some things go." 

She then repeated this advice to "be careful" and said something about how she wanted my friend to be "all right."

My friend asked, "Are YOU all right?"

In this brief, odd little exchange, much is revealed. There is a "thug social norm" in North Minneapolis, sometimes, which holds the No. 1 rule of the street is "No Snitching." And then there are other people--"revitalizers," for lack of a better term--who have just the opposite view:

For "revitalizers," the No. 1 rule of the streets is, "This is my city, and I will look out for it."

In this case, that means if I see a hit-and-run happen, I will chase after on foot and get the license plate to la-dee-da-dee turn over to police.

So I ask: who will ultimately win this little "War of Social Norms?"

My money is on the forces of urban revitalization.

1 comment:

veg*nation said...

wow! i was expecting this "war of social norms" to be between (a) if you dent someone's car, then you leave a note under the windshield wiper with your phone number, or (b) if you hit someone's car, just get the hell out of there!

i actually think there are three sets of social norms:
(a) snitching is bad
(b) keep your head down and don't give in to hope. long-time residents who have lived through a lot of previous attempts at revitalization (and maybe themselves put a lot of energy into failed initiatives) and are now resigned and weary. these are the folks who will only allow themselves to believe that "this time is different" when they see enough tangible changes happening on their block that they don't feel like they're suckers for having hope yet again. because for many years, city hall really wasn't backing up the work that residents put into their neighborhood, this kind of resignation is understandable, if (as all indicators seem to point) outdated.
(c) the current crop of revitalizers.