Susan Gladin: Wrong to feed fear and ‘us vs. them’ mentality

Mar. 06, 2013 @ 10:22 PM

This week the red numbers and bold headlines of the March 5 issue of the Daily Tar Heel caught my eye and drew me in. But it was a smaller article below the fold that touched my heart. 

It was a warm remembrance by someone who came to know Eve Carson through her legacy of love and service to UNC. 

“Eve Carson used to say that she had friends, and she had friends that she had not yet met,” writes DTH editor Chelsey Dulaney. After five long years people are still grieving the murder of the UNC student body president. 

But no warmth was evident in the story Dulaney wrote above the fold. It was told with all-capital letters designed to elicit steely fear from readers: MURDERS, RAPES, KIDNAPPINGS, and ROBBERIES. Chapel Hill, beware of Durham.

“There are no fences, no checkpoints and thousands of people flow in and out of the cities’ borders each day without a second thought,” Dulaney stated. 

She goes on to describe Carson’s murder by two Durham residents - events that she defines as a stark invasion; the darker Durham forces shattering, for a time, the light on the hill.

Feeding fear and fostering division will do nothing to make Chapel Hill or Durham safer.  The best bet for relief lies with those thousands of people flowing freely between the two cities every day. They have the power to build communication and blur the lines that feed hostilities.

While the frightening numbers in the article are accurate, they don’t tell the whole story.  For one, you have to turn over three pages to read words from District Attorney Jim Woodall, with his 20-plus years of experience in Orange County, saying repeatedly that “crime in Orange County is by and large homegrown.” 

For another, Durham is a real city with all the diversity and dysfunction that a large population holds. While the article noted that Durham is four times larger than Chapel Hill, it didn’t cite the fact that the poorer parts of what would be Chapel Hill are often unincorporated, making their residents (and any crimes) statistics of other places. This increases Chapel Hill's perception of itself as a victim. 

Some of those unclaimed fringes of Chapel Hill bleed over into Durham County.

Dulaney has done a good job of establishing an “us” and “them” mindset, with such a dramatic dichotomy that the editor can imagine a need for fences and checkpoints between the two municipalities. 

But in another scenario, Durham and Chapel Hill could easily be parts of one whole. Had the region been incorporated differently, Chapel Hill might be a neighborhood within a far larger city. 

In that scenario there would be no “us” or “them.” There would be no sense of the intrusion implied in this article, but instead one whole in need of healing.

I should fess up here that my husband and I are part-owners of a house in Durham, and both of our daughters have Durham addresses, with one of them living right downtown. I love Durham, and bristle when I hear people speak of it with disdain or fear. I don’t often hear racist comments around here, but when I do, they’re hurled at Durham, linking darkness and danger “over there.”

A fence and checkpoints would make Chapel Hill a de-facto gated community. But I know that some of the professors on the would-be fenced-in campus teach that crime is most often begat by poverty, and that the best way for a community to heal itself is to embrace all of its strengths and weaknesses - wealth, poverty, crime, opportunity, disparity, and creativity - and come together as concerned citizens to address them. 

Through its grief, the Daily Tar Heel has whipped up fear and played the victim, offering no participation in a solution. It is far easier to disparage the other and imagine the need for a fence.It is simpler to imagine that we are “us” and they are “them,” but in doing so we lose the opportunity to ever know those friends we haven’t met yet.

 

Susan Gladin is a freelance writer, United Methodist minister, and curriculum coordinator at the Johnson Intern Program in Chapel Hill. She tends horses and a home business on the farm she shares with her husband. Their two grown daughters live nearby. E-mail her at sglad1210@aol.com or write c/o The Chapel Hill Herald, 2828 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705.