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:
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.