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A New Feature: Dear PoP

From time to time I get letters asking a variety of questions. So from time to time, when given permission, I will share them with you.

Dear PoP,

This whole hearing gunshots thing — if I dwell on it, I start to become
uncomfortable in my own home–especially if I am alone. I feel like the
only other choice I have is to ignore the thought of it and hope I am
never in any way involved.

Sometimes, I wonder if I should just get out of here — tear up my lease
and go back to the ‘burbs where it’s “safe.” But I’ve only been here for
a few months, and everything I enjoy doing on my free time is here.

I feel like someone is going to tell me I’ll grow a “thick skin” after a

I realize crime can and does happen anywhere, but the prevalence and
vicinity to my home has me worried. I feel like there are areas I must
avoid, behaviors I must avoid (e.g., walking down GA Ave after dark). I
also feel I have to be careful how I look at people (e.g., while at a
stop light or on my front porch) to be sure I don’t accidentally upset
someone. There seem to be so many ticking time bombs around here.

What exactly is your take on all of this? You’ve lived here for a
while…do you just accept that it (i.e., crime) happens and hope it
never happens to you? Do you do more than hope? Are there things you do
to ensure your safety? Reasons why you feel safe? Do you feel safe?

-Don’t want to be scared

Dear Don’t,

What you are feeling is totally normal. Believe me, there have been times when I’ve been frightened as well. But those recent gunshots are pure randomness. When I lived in Woodley Park next to the zoo, there were frequently police helicopter circling overhead. A good friend of mine, who by the by, is in the Special Forces right now, was mugged in north Cleveland Park. I truly believe that Petworth is among the safer neighborhoods in the city. Why?

Because neighbors look after one another here. You have absolutely nothing to fear while you are on your porch. When I first moved here I was known by some drug dealers as the crazy white boy because I would sit on my porch and talk to every one who passed by at all hours of the day or evening. I’m not necessarily advocating that but it is important that you get to know your neighbors and become part of the community. People watch each other’s back here.

But it is true that there are drug dealers. And for the most part it is the drug dealers who face the dangers of gunfire. Now of course there is always a little risk living in a city. When you live in a city there are precautions that should be taken. Personally I don’t walk on Georgia Ave. or many other streets past a certain hour. That is just my own comfort level. But all things considered we are in a beautiful reality.

So how does one feel safe? Only you can answer that. Some people like to get a dog. Some have an alarm system. Some don’t walk the streets past a certain hour. But I really believe the best way to feel safe is to become a part of the community. Talk to all of your neighbors. Talk to people in the street. Attend community events. Street smarts are learned. If you are walking around late at night don’t have ear phones in, don’t talk on your cell phone, be aware of your surroundings and walk confidently. There are precautions to be taken but don’t obsess about it. It is important to find your own comfort level. By and large you are living in a safe and welcoming community. Enjoy it!

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