Crime & Punishment

My wife, newborn baby and I once lived in a respected, quaint, older Durango neighborhood. Our neighbors would bring us tomatoes, loan us their tools, and we always shared a story or two over our low fences. In spite of an occasional siren or car speeding by the front window, we usually fell asleep to the sounds of silence.

Then, out-of-nowhere, the elderly woman two houses down the street was moved into assisted living and somehow her two teen-age grandsons inherited the house. Out of nowhere, the entire neighborhood dynamic shifted.

I’d get home from work to find a pair of free-range pit bulls grazing in my front yard. I’d wake at 4 o’clock in the morning to hear two guys screaming at each other as they came down from who knows what. A couple nights later, I’d sit by and watch as they hosted a half dozen, 60 mile-per-hour drag races down our residential street. Later in the week, we’d hear the crash of metal or catcalls made at a woman and her baby passing by on a walk. And every morning, we’d watch as elementary students filed past, en route to Needham Elementary, a stone’s throw away from the now sleeping house.

Pathetically, I tip-toed around the situation. I remembered my own teen-age confusion and knew that I still threw parties and occasionally got a little out of hand. Someone else will call the cops, I thought. Someone else will go over and explain the rules, I assumed.

However, the situation never fixed itself. And finally, after another drag-racing episode, expletive shouting match and a morning picking broken glass off our front walk, I put the house on the market.

Last week, I breathed a sigh of relief as I picked up the police blotter and read how a rock had been thrown through a window in our old neighborhood. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that we were safely at a distance.

I’d successfully kept it all at an arm’s length. I’d glance at headlines and hear sirens in the distance and count my blessings. After all, they didn’t rip off my car, kick my ass or break into my place and trash it. They didn’t come through my front door and hold me and my family at gun point. That happened over in that neighborhood, I’d say. We don’t live in town anymore, I’d remind myself. We dodged that bullet, I’d tell myself.

But last week, another violation made me rethink my stance. I remembered that I don’t live here to dodge bullets. I have no interest in locking my house and car. I don’t want to worry about my office getting broken into. I’m not here to hide as I walk around at night.

But take an attempted robbery at gun point, a late-night rape, the theft of money bags, an ATM robbery and throw in assaults on three police officers, and pretty soon you’re talking about real crime. Hiding in the country no longer cuts it.

For me, one of Durango’s greatest appeals has always been its status as a great melting pot. Somehow, this town successfully mixes people. A wealthy second homeowner and a blue collar worker can meet on the level in Durango. Many of the factors that contribute to friction elsewhere in the world make for a comfortable diversity here.

You can get away with almost anything in Durango. You can be anyone, believe anything and do pretty much anything you like. But there’s one steadfast rule – don’t screw over your neighbors.

Whether our cars have been stolen, our homes vandalized or we just considered locking the door or didn’t go out for that evening walk, we’ve been screwed over.

I had been trying to rationalize the ugliness and find a place to point the finger. But then I remembered my old neighborhood. I remembered those nights when I closed my eyes and ears. I remembered how I opted for convenience over communication. I remembered running off to the country rather than dealing with the situation. And I realized that the responsibility for policing the community begins with the community.

-Will Sands




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