Appreciate first. Safety will follow.

I was in Glenn the Barber’s chair yesterday when he looked out the front window and said, “Uh oh.  Here comes ‘Noise’.”  As if that were the large, pleasant 40-something-year-old man’s nickname.  I could tell that there was a brotherly love there.

There was a twelve year old kid receiving what I expected was his first ‘real haircut’ in the other chair.  His Mom had dropped him off and run errands, knowing he’d be in good hands with the pillars of the local community who are fortunate enough to afford a session with Glenn or his assistant.

As ‘Noise’ entered the thin-doored bathroom, Glenn yelled after him.  “Why couldn’t you use the bathroom at your house?!”  If I could have bottled that ad-lib comic routine, I’d land a regular gig on SNL.

Glenn subtly hit me up for a donation to his church fundraiser, proud they’d just moved into the old synagogue down off Pequot; Zion something….  As ‘Noise’ settled cozily into the third chair, he was psyched for a ‘big meal’.  He talked about every soul food dish as if they were holy:  “Collared greens…  ham hocks… fried chicken…”  The list included 10 more items I wish I could remember.  “Oh, and macaroni with cheese.”  Cruel shoes before lunch I thought.

I was also jealous of Noise and Glenn for being able to move their heads to the unbelievably righteous, bass-driven, Marvin Gaye-style funk from 1975 while I had a sharp buzzing razor attacking the hair on my temples that my friends had never told me I have.

Obama, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and others looked proudly down on us from the wall.

Noise said, “I just thank Jesus that I had the good fortune to wake up and enjoy one more beautiful day on this beautiful earth.”  We all agreed we were fortunate people.  As I left, they each gave me blessings, and me them.  New London is a sanctuary of cross cultural exchange.

Yet some are saying, as the Police Department is shaken up a bit, that New London is becoming less safe.  Its been almost two years since 21-year-old artist, Mathew Chew, was stabbed and beaten to death by six punks just a couple blocks from our condo.  The six wanna-be gang members were quickly arrested and have been sentenced to long years of incarceration.  Since then, New London citizens have been educated, police have become more ‘community’ focused and only a few minor incidents of people being harassed have been reported – but there’ve been no gun or knife murders downtown.

This past week, however, a group of 10 men were alleged to have ‘beaten up’ on a visitor to one of our bars.  The victim claims to have been punched in the face, thrown to the ground and kicked by this ‘group of men’.  Police were on the scene within minutes and the victim was treated and released by L&M Hospital.

It all sounded suspicious to me.  A downtown bar had thrown a ‘welcome back college students’ event?  I’ve never seen anything like that publicized.  I walk my dog downtown every night and have never seen 10 men together except at one of our two local gay bars.

I’ve seen some chemically-effected, middle aged guys on bikes without shirts weaving through strollers on the pier.  I’m sometimes hit up by both local and transient wanderers who respectfully ask for fifty cents or a dollar, likely having heard that our local convenience store is a friendly weigh station.  But no one’s been threatening.

Well, I put on my Shirlock Holmes hat and googled the name of the victim and his home town.  It turns out our visitor had a couple different incidents a few months ago involving disturbing the peace, unlawful discharge of a firearm, interfering with officers…

He comes from a pleasant, colorfully named middle class town in New Haven County.  Without blaming the victim (I have no further insight – the local police have issued no further information), I can only speculate that some of this individual’s bad karma followed him here to New London.

Senseless violence doesn’t distinguish between rural and urban, between on-the-street and in your front door.  Idiots and wannabe’s could be living upstairs from you, in the house next door to you, or down the street near your kids’ bus stop.  We have to be vigilant.  But let’s not let ourselves be intimidated.  My dog and I have ears and eyes and legs ready to run.  We explore using his nose.  I will not be denied that right to roam.

Sure, violence might visit any one of us in a downtown.  But in the meantime, let’s enjoy each other and our cities.  We are truly lucky to have any day the Lord allows us to live.  Let’s not waste it in fear.

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