It is privilege to have the paper care enough to cover your cause, let alone on the front page
Police and city officials have been working with neighbors of 2307 Bever Ave. SE to address incidents at the rental property. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Two days after The Gazette ran a story about a house on Bever Avenue (“Magnet for danger, Cedar Rapids house alarms neighbors”), the same house was spray painted in bright capital letters “WE WIN! NO MORE (expletive) HERE.”
It’s easy to spot racism when it’s a racial epithet spray painted on a house. But racism can be at play even when we can’t see it.
The facts are indisputable: the prior renters of the house were engaged in gun violence and the landlord failed to properly address the violence. I empathize with the neighbors who experienced stray bullets from drive-by shootings. The police chief stated, “They [the neighbors] shouldn’t have to face it. They deserve and are entitled to live in a quiet neighborhood.” But in truth, everyone deserves and is entitled to live in a quiet neighborhood.
Yet there are too many blocks in low-income neighborhoods where residents have to experience regular drive-by shootings, and there has been no story about them. In fact, the article cites three other nuisance properties owned by Property Holders LTD — all in under-resourced neighborhoods — but none of those residents were interviewed. Yet this story made the Sunday paper, front page, above the fold. It is privilege to have the paper care enough to cover your cause, let alone on the front page.
For this one problem house, the neighborhood received more than 500 proactive visits in under a year with extra surveillance. The neighbors had video meetings with an interdepartmental team of city staff where police shared information regarding ongoing investigations. Do the residents in other neighborhoods with shootings have the same privilege?
The Gazette piece invited empathy for the neighbors who were afraid and scared to give their name for the article. Do we extend that same empathy to residents of a neighborhood with high crime rates who are afraid to give information to the police, or do we say they are refusing to cooperate with authorities?
The article implied that the solution is for people engaged in violence to move to a different neighborhood, a neighborhood where violence will not be news. Writing about the distress of neighbors in a wealthier neighborhood and not interviewing neighbors in low-income neighborhoods perpetuates the mistaken notion that the latter group tolerates violence. No one wants to live on a violent block, but not all families have the resources to relocate, especially when there is a dearth of safe, affordable housing.
If we are going to get serious about preventing violence in our community, we have to give children the help they need. Children need safe neighborhoods, supportive schools and equal opportunities. The article refers to those arrested as “juveniles,” but juveniles is the word we use when we don’t want to say they are children.
We will reduce youth violence by building a community where all children can thrive. The article noted that children should be able to bike safely to Bever Park. But kids should also be able to bike safely to Redmond Park and Daniels Park and Jones Park. A park in any neighborhood should be a safe destination for parents to send their kids.
Our city isn’t safe until all children are safe. When we unite and ensure safety for our entire community, the next article can be “Cedar Rapids: Magnet for Hope.” And that’s front-page material.
Jenny Schulz is executive director of the Kids First Law Center.