Published: Nov 20, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Nov 20, 2012 07:00 PM
One of my neighbors saw two guys approach a rear bedroom window in the rental duplex my wife and I own next door to our house.
They seemed to be whispering to each other and tinkering with the screen. They finally pulled it off, and one of the guys climbed in through the open window. The neighbor called 911.
Just as the inside-guy came back to the window to talk to the outside-guy, a uniformed police officer walked up from the alley at the edge of the backyard and shined his big flashlight at the men.
“What are you guys doing?” he said.
“Oh, we’re just trying to fix this window,” said my tenant, who was the outside-guy, holding the screen while I, the inside-guy, pulled the pins to try and secure it.
Yes, the Durham police showed up to protect my own rental property from me!
The place is 60 years old, and apparently, none of my previous tenants had ever fully shut the bedroom door, because after these tenants happened to pull it tightly closed to keep their friend’s dog out, they discovered that the doorknob no longer released the latch. They had locked themselves out of their own bedroom.
I had come over to remove the doorknob and see if I could fix it, but it turned out the only way to let them back into their bedroom was to climb through the window and pry the latch free from the inside with a couple of flathead screwdrivers.
When I moved to the Triangle eight years ago, I didn’t consider moving to Durham. I’d read something likening it to an “armpit” of North Carolina. People seemed to associate Durham with crime, so I moved to Carrboro, and then Chapel Hill, and then back to Carrboro in the first five years in N.C. Along the way, Chapelboro started feel really small, and Durham started to seem really cool, mostly because my perception was changing. But also because the city was changing.
When I bought my house in Walltown in 2009, I felt I had to come to terms with the distinct possibility that I would become a crime victim at some point. Friends had had their homes broken into, and someone would probably try to break into mine, and so I had to be prepared. (And, listen, you, I’m not going to tell you what’s waiting for you if you do try to break in. I’ve got some McCauley Culkin surprises for you!)
I know Durham is a place of economic inequities that can lead to crime. I know people are scared about assaults on the American Tobacco Trail. When I was a crime reporter for The News & Observer, I covered the trial for a stabbing that happened inside Northgate Mall, a place that I now sometimes walk to. On our block, we’ve had four larcenies or burglaries this year, but no robberies (that’s theft of the violent sort, like a mugging). And all four have occurred across the street. Those houses back up to businesses that are often closed at night, while ours back up to neighbors who are home after dark and able to call the cops. I don’t know if that has anything to do with it. Maybe.
We will remain vigilant, but I’m glad to have another good reason to call Durham home. I moved here for the great restaurants and bars, the music scene, the DIY risk-taking, the smart people thinking hard about social justice and all the opportunities that Duke has to offer. Now I also know I have neighbors who pay attention and police who respond quickly.
I like that T-shirt that says, “Durham: It’s Not for Everyone.” We like to think we’re a little tougher than the rest of the Triangle. And maybe we are. Still, it’s one thing to accept the fact that crime might happen to you, but it’s a better thing to know your neighbors are looking out for you.Jesse James DeConto is a journalist and songwriter in Durham. Contact him at 919-812-5097 or email@example.com
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