How do you make the city safe?

Today I thought I’d repost something that I wrote about number of years ago.

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One Sunday night we were in the city waiting for our tram back home and we heard this guy yelling at everyone. He was obviously very angry. He was trying to pick a fight, walking past each person at the tram stop, calling people white trash, saying he was going to kill people. Everyone was trying to pretend he wasn’t there. I decided to try and make eye contact with him. I was wondering if it would make any difference if someone acknowledged his presence and his anger. He kept knocking me with his shoulder as he walked past, and eventually he turned and faced me. He said he wanted to kill us, like we’d killed his people. I said that my people had done him wrong, and that I was sorry for how we treat his people. He said it wasn’t me who did it. He proceeded to tell about how is people had been killed, about is time in prison, about how he’s treated by the police. He was obviously very upset, but he wasn’t yelling or threatening anyone anymore. I asked him if he had anywhere to go. He said the only place he had to go was back to gaol.

There’s been a lot of talk in Melbourne in recent years about how unsafe our streets supposedly are. There have been calls for more police, for greater police powers. There have been contests between politicians to see who can claim to be be the toughest on crime. I wonder how many unsafe situations in our neighbourhoods could be diffused if we treated our neighbours as human beings, instead of ignoring them and hoping they’ll disappear or get arrested?

I don’t know what happened to the bloke I met later. Maybe he went back to gaol? It’s pretty terrible when one of our neighbours would rather be locked up than be out in the community. I don’t know what the answer is. But I want to keep struggling with it.

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