Too Many Locks
I Just Want Them On My Bagels
When I was a kid, the front door of my house where I grew up in the American suburbs was a Dutch door which had a top section which could be opened while the bottom section remained closed, which was helpful in letting the sun in while not making it easier for the dog to get out through a completely open door. It also was a more friendly door because you could leave it open from the top and you could see outside and people, friends, mailmen, milkmen, could come to the door and let you know they were there and you didn’t have to look through a peep hole to see anybody.
And the only time we locked the front and back doors was when we went away to our summer bungalow in the New Dorp section of Staten Island. Otherwise, we went to Emil’s Foodtown for groceries and didn’t lock the door, my mother drove me to my Little League game and didn’t lock the door and we definitely never locked the car doors during the day or over night. When everybody hit the hay, the doors remained unlocked and sometimes, in the summer, the front door was left open and the screen door kept out the mosquitoes. You get the point. We never had a break-in unless you count our alcoholic neighbor across the street, Elva, who would sneak in the back door occasionally and steal my mother’s booze. We didn’t call the cops and considered rather that Elva wasn’t a criminal, just a sick woman. The thing was that we knew Elva just like we knew the other neighbors, not that we were all best friends, but there was a familiarity that made it a comfortable place to live and a place where we had no reason to think we were not safe.
Back then, people didn’t drive down the street and see a police car in their rear view mirror think “what did I do know?” Rather they’d see the police and not expect anything was wrong. I don’t even remember seeing police except when they were directing traffic on Sundays during church at Our Lady of Visitation on Farview Avenue. Maybe they had police cars hidden from view, ready to stop the speeders, but I never saw it.
Why wasn’t there more crime then, I mean, it would have been nothing to case my house and just go in the back door while we were at a Little League game, not to say that we had much worth stealing, but they could have taken our television or my brother’s trumpet. But they didn’t and I’m trying to understand why. I think Plato had it right when he said, “Good people don’t need laws to tell them to act responsibly. Bad people will find a way around the laws.” But I would take it a step further that most people know what is right and wrong and they’ll act properly, even without laws. Of course, there always were and always will be people who misbehave in terrible ways, as with crimes of violence, and for those situations we need the police.
If there was a law that nobody could lock their doors unless they were going on vacation, I would suggest there would not be a storm of break-ins although certainly there would be some and the police could help catch the criminals. It’s the same with motor vehicle laws. If there were no speed limits, I think people would self-regulate to safe speeds. I know I would not all of sudden feel it was OK to go 90 miles per hour through my neighborhood, just because I could. Of course there will always be those who violate safe norms and that’s where the police come in. I don’t think people have changed but their circumstances have, as with the scourge of drug addiction and the resulting rise in crimes, the depersonalization and alienation caused by social media, the gap between haves and have-nots and the constant drum beat telling everyone what they should have in order to be successful.
I am not one who wants to shut down police departments but I believe that change will come when the picture is shifted so that people, including the police, realize that most people, black, white, Latino, whether they live in the suburbs or the South Bronx, know what the right thing is and would rather do the right thing rather than suspect that people will try to get away with anything. That basic appreciation of the goodness of most people would go a long way to avoiding the types of friction too often seen between the police and the public and cutting back on the feeling among police and the public that it is “us against them.” Could there be a country without police? No. But there could be changes that would improve relations between the police a public. I don’t know when things changed so that people lock everything, cars, doors, sheds and they fear that strangers are likely up to no good. It was a gradual thing and there have been many reasons but things will only change when the attitudes of fear and anger are replaced with some understanding. Kumbaya.