I have a habit. I love to walk, and not necessarily for exercise -- although my doctors stay on my case about that, too. I like to walk because I can see and learn more about where I’m walking.
When you’re driving through neighborhoods, you might be surprised at how much you miss, but when you’re walking, you can take in the details. My wife and I on Saturday mornings generally can be found walking through some part of town. We start at Mercer University and head off in a different direction each week. Sometimes we end up downtown. Sometimes we end up walking through Rose Hill Cemetery or the Ocmulgee riverwalk.
I have walked in areas some people would never dream of driving. I’ve walked in cities from San Francisco to New York to Shanghai to Montego Bay. I’ve only been nervous in one of those cities. I’ll let you guess which one.
You see things from a different perspective when you’re walking, and that’s why it was great to see Sheriff David Davis and his deputies walk through the southwest part of Unionville. And that’s why I decided to join them.
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We started at Cedar Avenue and Straight Street, and off we went. Along the way the sheriff and his deputies stopped and talked to residents. Some residents were hesitant at first, and I could understand why. When you see a number of sheriff cars rolling up your street, it’s not normally a sign of something good. But it was amazing how quickly the residents relaxed when Sheriff Davis or Chief Deputy Russell Nelson or one of the other deputies walked up and shook their hands and asked them “what can I do for you?”
Some weren’t bashful. One woman wanted the lot beside her house and the one across the street cut. Neither had seen a mower in a while. The deputies spotted a car that had come to rest on the right of way sometime this century, found the owner across the street who is the definition of a “shade tree mechanic,” and he promised to move it. I’d make a bet (sorry, I know that’s illegal) that the lots will be cleared and the car moved.
Again, walking through a neighborhood changes your perspective. Unionville isn’t filled with expensive homes, but the part we were in had its share of nice, well-kept houses with nicely cut lawns and flowers. You could tell the people who lived there -- though they had to come through blighted properties -- had not succumbed to it. They were holding on.
How do we capture that spirit? How do we help those who are trying to do the right thing and who still take pride in where they live and what they live in? One answer is ownership. We tend to take care of things we own. I don’t have the statistics, but I wonder if there is a correlation between rental properties and blight in an area?
The other thing this walk -- and the others that will follow -- creates is an establishment of a relationship. Too many times we’ve seen communities pitted against law enforcement and vice versa. That’s because neither the residents nor law enforcement has taken the time to walk through each other’s neighborhoods. They don’t know each other. They didn’t meet each other playing or coaching softball or talking along the sidelines at their sons’ midget football games while their daughters cheered.
Relationships is why this community wasn’t on the national news when Junebug was killed in broad daylight in the parking lot of the Pio Nono Kroger. But for relationships constructed over the years, Ferguson, Missouri, could’ve been Macon.
This sheriff’s office and the Macon Police Department before consolidation has a bank account. The legal tender is trust. Law enforcement continues to make deposits in that account, and these little walks through neighborhoods are all part of that. It takes time and effort. But the children I saw run out to greet the deputies (yes, the deputies had candy) will grow up in the twinkling of an eye. And if we can continue to focus their vision on the friendly deputies they saw walking through their neighborhood rather than some of the disturbing images of police misconduct in other cities, all of the effort will be well worth it. Those deposits will continue to earn interest.
See a short video of the safety walk at www.macon.com.
Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tweet @crichard1020.