Thursday, November 7, 2013

Safe Surrender in My Community

Yesterday kicked off a Safe Surrender initiative here in NJ - for those of you who don't know we moved here the beginning of '12 from Harlem (you can read my thoughts on our 1st Jersey City neighborhood here).

I didn't know about the program until walking back from Nia's school drop-off and saw hundreds of people of color (mostly black) queued in front of a prominent building surrounded by swarms of police, special unit vehicles and barricades. 

A previous Safe Surrender {image credit}
I asked an officer what was going on and he replied back with a question, "You got a warrant?" 


He didn't explain it was safe surrender, but I saw a parking sign nearby which said "safe surrender." A woman a moment later stopped to ask me what was going on and I told her. I explained to the officer that my daughter goes to school in the area, and I wanted to know what was going on.

I mentioned to my husband who walked by the event on his way to work earlier that morning, and he didn't know what it was either so I told him. 

Here's a clip about the program (the embed code's wonky so if you can't see it click the link):

What concerns me . . .
  • It wasn't widely publicized - maybe to those on the run it was, but within the community it's a pretty big deal for an expected 10,000 fugitives to show up over the course of a few days; I only saw one poster on a side street door and this was after stumbling upon Safe Surrender yesterday
  • Perception - while the Safe Surrender was for non-violent warrants only, the image of the throngs of people of color surrounded by police vehicles and predominantly white police officers gives a certain connotation to those in the community especially when it's during a time that families are walking their children to/from school; it obviously wasn't election day and while we live in a multi-racial community the appearance at the polls didn't look anything like the lines for Safe Surrender which brings me to . . .
  • Post-Election day - the fact that it was a day after the election seemed very contrived and rubbed me in a wrong way that I just can't put my finger on; I'm not sure what the outreach was for Safe Surrender, but I wonder if the multicultural voting encouragement was similar - I doubt it
Our area is in an interesting stretch within Jersey City. It's slowly gentrifying more so than our old neighborhood and there's a strong north/south demarcation line of decline. Rather than shy away from programs like this in the community, which I think are needed, I believe education would go a long way for all racial groups when efforts like this are initiated. For the mostly whites who live north of the demarcation line having to "pass through" the impoverished areas and stumble upon it, as a I did, rather than look at it as an outsider looking in, take initiative to learn about it and know the community you're in. It's so easy as an outsider not having to interact with non-dominant groups but in reverse for those of us in the minority we don't have a choice. 

What I've learned about living here is that Jersey City is not just the waterfront which unfortunately, many think. No matter where I've lived I've always made an effort to know the surrounding areas and my community. It's not always a comfortable experience, but it's an important one.