Sunday, February 17, 2013

Best journalism ever

I came to Bushwick, Brooklyn, a little over three years ago because I needed a job. Then I started working in the Bronx because I wanted a better one. I'm not a social worker or an activist, and I'm certainly not a native, just someone who due to a long series of events found themselves going to work every day in the poorest urban county in America.

When I started working in the Bronx, at an affordable housing developer and property management company, just about every day I would hear a story that would make me think, I wish people who aren't here could see what I'm seeing. I wish I knew how to tell them about it. I wish there was a way to embed a reporter in this office without breaking 8 million rules about confidentiality, risking bad PR and so on and so forth.

Someone at This American Life found a way:

This episode is incredible. While the specifics are different -- New York, as noted early on, is much less violent than Chicago -- it still made me think, someone found a way to say it. We all know that crime is high in some poor urban neighborhoods, and that it's very difficult to be successful if that's where you're from, and etc., or, at least, I think most people are on top of that. But what it's really like, all the little things you don't think of, they really blow that open when they talk to the football team and ask, do you know anyone who has been shot or shot at, and they think they know what they're getting into because they know some of the kids will say yes. And instead, the older kids say they don't know anyone who *hasn't.* And when you hear something like that you think, oh, actually, I don't know anything at all.

There's a non-profit agency in Harlem my work does "back office" for -- we handle money and paperwork, but they do the management on site. So it was not our employees who were on the front lines of this particular incident. But still. When I was fairly new to the company, there was a family in which the mother was dead, one teenage son was hospitalized following a shooting and the other teenage son was on the lam. Teenage son number two eventually came home to the apartment and the police found him there. A standoff ensued that involved him dangling a baby out a window. Somehow, nobody died. What was most remarkable was not that this happened, just like it's not remarkable that a teenager in a high-crime neighborhood would know someone who had been shot. What I was stuck on was that no one in the office was talking about this unless they needed to know about it to do their job. Just another day in the office. Some teenagers don't know anyone who hasn't been shot at. And it's like the snow in Buffalo -- if you panicked and shut everything down every time there was a shooting that affected your student body, you'd barely have school at all.

Some might argue that they don't want to hear about this from the perspective of mostly white, highly privileged people who are to say the least experiencing it as outsiders. That's a conversation worth having, and I've heard other radio spots that put microphones in the hands of young people and send them out to report on their own communities. I think in this instance, though, when most of America are outsiders who can't begin to imagine what it's like to live like this, maybe it's not so bad that a fellow outsider is saying, DO YOU SEE THIS OVER HERE and telling them what they need to know.