Inner City Diary
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Don't talk of justice in my neighbourhood
July 14, 2002
Several weeks ago, I noticed a marked increase in the number of prostitution and drug transactions right around our little church on Maryland. Turns out we have some enterprising new neighbours in an apartment block adjacent to our church.

People started complaining to me. Church members and renovation workers were feeling odd. One fellow commented “It’s weird how everything is right out in the open, like they don’t even care we all know what they’re doing.”

It’s pretty much the same deal across the street from our church. Seems there are two busy drug houses with a sniff & boozer house sandwiched between them. Steady stream of traffic. Lots of late night drive-up and walk-up business. It’s noisy and rough. Cops are frequent visitors at these places, but the business seems to continue unabated.

I puzzled for awhile over why these folks don’t care how obvious they’re making their business.

I’ve talked to lots of these characters and don't consider them stupid. I'm not sure I agree with the idea that these folk were all so dumb or poor that they had no other choice. Talking to enough of them over the years, I know different. In their own way, many of them have actually weighed the risks and decided that criminal activity is a safe bet for them.

The odds are definitely in their favor.

Odds are that if you engage in criminal behavior, you won’t get caught. Police resources are stretched and community folk are reticent to give their names in a complaint against neighboring crooks.

Odds are that if you get caught, you won’t be prosecuted. Lots of arrests never make it to trial. Rules of evidence are strict. Even the most careful cops have experienced procedural pitfalls.

Odds are that if you get prosecuted, you won’t be found guilty in court. There’s even a good chance your legal aid will come from the public purse, not your own pocket.

Odds are that if you’re guilty, you’re not going to do much jail time and, if need be, you can probably plead to a lesser charge. A legal slap on the wrist is less a deterrent than a simple annoyance.

Odds are that if you won’t be found guilty in court, people trying to stop you are less likely to be excited about another exercise in futility. Rules regarding disclosure of police methods mean the crooks get schooled in how not to get caught next time. I’ve heard the frustration from the cops and residents. “Why put all that time, money and energy into an investigation and prosecution if your best efforts come up empty anyway?”

Looking at how the odds are stacked in favor of the crooks, it’s little wonder they strut their stuff with such impunity.

So back to our situation with the new neighbours.

Some folk have already called the cops. Others have called some local politicians. So I decided on a different approach.

Several days ago, I stopped by for a chat and just told them how I felt. First I talked to a couple of the women. An hour later I talked to the guy who seems to be running the show.

It was a bit awkward at first. Walking up to talk with them, I wasn’t sure if we’d be having an argument or a discussion. I wasn’t even totally sure what I was going to say. So I just introduced myself as the pastor of the church. I told them that their hooking and dealing were hard to watch.

I let them know the discouragement it was bringing to people who had worked hard to get out of the trade and were attending or visiting our church.

I let them know that we had decided to pray for them because worse than hurting our feelings, they were hurting themselves and each other. This wasn’t a “holier-than-thou” thing. We listen to the talk next door. We look into tired eyes and see strung-out bodies hop into cars with make-believe smiles. It really is sad to see this stuff!

After talking for awhile, I waited for a response. You know what’s weird? These folks didn’t laugh in our face. They didn’t even deny what was going on.

Instead they said thanks. They offered to keep it quiet, and even suggested that they’ll keep it away from the church and the kids around us. And for the last few days its actually been a little more peaceful.

I know it’s nowhere near a solution, but at least it started us talking.

Change only comes when they change the way they deal with life – or when the system changes the way it deals with them.

I’m not sure which will come harder.
Copyright 2002
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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514 Maryland Street
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(204) 775-4929