2004-08-04 / Editorials


National Night Out 2004
Shows People Have Power

National Night Out 2004
Shows People Have Power

Last night all across Queens, New York City and much of the rest of the country, the 21st National Night Out Against Crime was celebrated. In this area, local police precincts and the community councils and other civilian groups that support them, with the help of many sponsoring organizations, all made the night a very special occasion.

National Night out activities generally focus on crime prevention, with police offering tips and advice on how to avoid becoming a victim of crime against person, property or both. Other institutions such as hospitals and senior centers present their own varieties of advice about maintaining and improving one’s quality of life. Few events fail to include opportunities for parents to have their children photographed and fingerprinted so that they can be recovered quickly in the event of their disappearance and last night’s activities were no exception.

The events at the various Queens police precincts were, as always, fun and instructive, and the information disseminated may well serve to prevent a crime or bring about a quick solution to one, although it’s very likely we’ll never know. Aside from the fun and information to be had, however, National Night Out Against Crime holds far greater significance, especially for New York City.

Twenty-one years ago when the first National Night Out Against Crime was held, New York City faced a host of problems besetting the safety and well-being of its citizens. Occurrences of so-called index crimes—burglary, grand larceny, grand larceny auto (car theft) robbery, rape and murder—were climbing steadily. Crimes for which another term, quality of life, was later coined—vandalism, truancy, public intoxication, littering, loitering, prostitution—were spreading across the city like some evil infection. Graffiti covered almost every surface that didn’t move and more than a few that did. In some cases, even though they barricaded themselves behind bars, window gates and chains and seven different deadbolt locks on their doors, citizens were not safe. In many public housing developments residents could not even sleep in their beds lest a stray bullet come through a window. They slept on their bedroom floors and prayed that the speeding chunks of lead that peppered the night sky could not pierce brick walls.

The first National Night Out gave life to a line from the movie "Network"—"I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!" But the participants in that first Night Out did more than scream out their windows, as the character played by actor Peter Finch did. They held events in parks and on playgrounds, at block parties and in houses of worship. They defied the prevailing wisdom that held that after the sun went down New York City belonged to the criminals. And slowly at first, then gaining momentum, the attitude and philosophy prevailing on one night in August grew and spread to the other 364 nights and days of the year.

National Night Out Against Crime 2004 was held after two surprisingly violent weeks in this city. It is a testament to the changes brought about in large part by 21 years of Night Out, however, that the spike in the rate of murder and mayhem was regarded as an aberration, not the norm. No longer do New Yorkers accept that what is must be. If, as was brought out at a recent meeting of Committee Of Organizations Precinct 104 (COP 104), conditions in a neighborhood threaten to deteriorate, concerned citizens meet with police and after airing complaints, map out strategies to deal with a problem before it accelerates. Suffering in silence is not acceptable.

The Cop 104 meeting and last night’s events underline another positive development: the growing willingness of civilians to cooperate and work with police. Many factors have played into the declining crime rate and improving quality of life in New York City but the growing acceptance of police by ordinary citizens and the increasingly close ties between the two fostered by decades of National Night Out Against Crime events is among the most significant. Last night was a sterling example of how citizens of good heart, good will and faith in their city and themselves can take back their lives. National Night Out Against Crime 2004 was an outstanding success. We hope to see many more.

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