THE EDGEMERE-SACKVILLE neighborhood, on the east side of Waters between 52nd and 56th Streets, has long been known for its persistently high crime rate.
A triple shooting happened on Cedar Street last summer. A running gun battle in summer 2012 shut down several blocks for half a day. Open-air drug sales are common.
Despite a sizable City taxpayer investment in sidewalks and infrastructure, it remains one of our most troubled areas.
That said, 99 percent of the time in broad daylight it's no problem at all, which is why I often casually drive through it without much thought, for example in trying to get to the Truman. This past sunny Saturday afternoon I did just that.
On one corner—in the same block of the triple shooting last summer—stood a solitary young teenager, no more than 10 feet away from me as I was at a stop sign.
Another car crossed in front of me and pulled up near the young man.
The young man, staring at the other car, reached for his back pocket, where I clearly saw the unmistakable butt of a handgun.
He put his hand on the gun briefly, looking at the other car the entire time.
He then lifted his hand away from his pocket, never taking his gaze off that car.
Then: Nothing. The young man continued ignoring my presence. I went on my way.
But I thought the scenario gave enough signs of imminent violence to someone that I decided to go into busybody mode.
I called the Savannah/Chatham Metro non-emergency number (912/652-6500). The dispatcher was responsive and professional.
I don't know exactly what happened next, but when I came back down Waters about a half-hour later I saw police passing through.
Not a very interesting story, is it? But when I posted it on Facebook later, the responses were pretty eye-opening.
I was surprised by the amount of people wondering if the young man had a legal gun and if he was legally carrying it—another example of the unintended consequences of the gun rights debate.
In my mind I was calling police about possibly imminent violence, in an area of town with a track record of drug-related shootings. Second Amendment rights or the lack thereof didn't occur to me either way.
Others pointed out it's much more likely police would be called when someone sees a black man carrying a gun, legally or illegally, than a white man. Hard to argue with that.
So did I do the right thing in calling the police when I saw a young man, who happened to be African American, reach for a concealed weapon on a street corner on the same block as a recent triple shooting?
Was I a busybody?
Was I encroaching on his gun rights?
Was I a racist?
Should I have continued Savannah's de facto segregation by just staying out of his neighborhood in the first place?
Wouldn't that be kind of racist?
What would you have done?
Institutional racism and social injustice are very real things, and they lead to problematic relationships with police. It's the hot topic of our time. (Check out Jessica Leigh Lebos's related piece in this issue.)
The "War on Drugs" has long been proven to be a sham, with documented disproportionate impacts on people of color.
But if one cares deeply about disadvantaged youth and about social justice—as most liberals surely do and our City leaders all claim to do—wouldn't a good place to start be to immediately try and reduce the violent crime which disproportionately impacts minorities, before more damage can be done?
There are victims of racism, and there are victims of crime. Complicating matters is the fact that people can be victims of both.
Much more complicated again is the undeniable fact that perpetrators can also be victims of racism.
And then there are schmoes like me, ostensibly a beneficiary of white privilege but still very much just one dude trying to figure it all out in real time, without screwing things up too badly along the way.
Social media debates aside, when does practicality override politics?
What do you do in the heat of the moment when someone, anyone, suddenly reaches for a gun under a clear blue sky?
Obviously, I don't really know what that young man was doing or not doing with a gun in his pocket.
But whether he was a potential perpetrator about to do violence, or just minding his own business and seemingly about to stand his ground against a perceived threat, either way there was an undeniable climate of fear on that street corner. And not just from me.
It's indefensible for a society to tolerate open-air drug markets and the intimidation they bring to law-abiding citizens, no matter the very valid socioeconomic reasons which might contribute to the situation.
The bottom line to me seems to be that all taxpayers deserve equal protection under the law. cs