The police came knocking on our door the other day. Turns out that another neighbor had called in a disturbing the peace report on our next-door neighbors who routinely argue if not worse. As I answered the policeman's questions, I began to feel guilty that I hadn't been the one to make the call myself. Then it occurred to me that my behavior had changed over recent history in part because personal intervention in neighborhood incidents is a lot more risky now. This is one of the unspoken consequences of the proliferation of guns in our American society: Unarmed good guys won't help you now.
I lived in a very ugly neighborhood in Cincinnati in the 1990s, and domestic violence and youth gangs were essentially weekly problems I faced in my apartment building. I had zero tolerance for either, and regularly spoke my mind to those doing the offending. Granted, now I have a spouse who's welfare I must consider as a higher priority than even my own, but there are plenty of reasons I rarely intervene in loud squabbles anymore. The biggest one is that I don't know what weapons they may bring to the fight. Logic and a good vocabulary don't seem to go very far these days.
Even aside from the potential for lethal force is the potential of legal force. Everyone is armed and litigation-happy. I better make sure that if I confront someone now, that it is on neutral territory. We have a homeowner's association here in our townhouse complex, so I'm not even sure where the boundaries are. I can't afford to open us up to a lawsuit from anybody.
This is why neighbors don't know each other anymore. We don't trust each other, we assume the worst, we value "privacy" above all else, and we don't participate in neighborhood events. This is certainly true of younger people for the most part. We have an annual neighborhood association meeting and it is attended by less than one dozen people.
Our neighborhood is also largely "minority." We don't know how to talk to each other even if we did want to. I am not saying ethnic diversity is a bad thing. Far from it, but everyone sticks with their own kind and it is at the least awkward to try and change that. The last time I spoke to any neighbor was because the postman had delivered their mail to our address.
I have no idea how to change any of this, and frankly my will to try has become mired in the inertia of the status quo. I would sooner run for public office than a leadership role in my own HOA. There is something more appealing about serving anonymous citizens than dealing with the pot-head across the walkway.
The bottom line is that I am embarrassed by the person I have become. I have maintained empathy and respect for the vulnerable among us, but have ceased to intervene out of fear and the "hassle" that often comes from doing so. Still, I will not give in to the point of purchasing a gun myself, or putting a lawyer on retainer. What to do instead of that remains the challenge.