Racial profiling. Militarization of police forces. Ugly and beautiful responses by shaken citizens. There’s a lot we all need to talk about in the wake of Michael Brown’s fatal shooting by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri.
What’s happening in our communities? Who are the officers tasked with preserving law and order around us?
Let’s not pretend that any one tech solution – one solution of any kind – will answer all of our questions or fix what ails our communities. The problems run too deep and are too complicated. Let us consider though how a company like Nextdoor might help to bring our communities together and allow us to have the discussions that are needed.
For those unfamiliar, Nextdoor is a private social network for neighborhoods. Members must prove who they are and where they live in order to join their virtual community. People use Nextdoor to find babysitters, alert one another to trouble such as break-ins, return lost pets to owners, or simply meet the people that live around them.
Since Nextdoor last appeared on KillerStartups, the number of communities that have adopted the network has grown from 8,000 to over 40,000. This amazing growth is a testament to the hunger for restored neighborly connections, which have been severed in part by an extremely mobile populace (as in prone to moving from town to town and in being glued to the small screen).
The president stated general sentiment succinctly: “In too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement.”
Nextdoor gives citizens and law enforcement a chance to build trust outside of the most nerve-wracking situations. People can know officers as members of their own community first and feel more comfortable engaging them.
A recent piece in The Verge quoted police officer Matthew Tortella of San Diego as saying, “A lot of people don’t want to call us unless there is something serious, but they are comfortable asking questions of their local officer over Nextdoor on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis.” Black citizens are incarcerated at appalling-high rates. The shootings of unarmed black youth must stop. No doubt there are bad police officers. There are also a lot of very good officers who do a difficult job, and share the same concerns and hopes as their neighbors both on and off duty. How many of us have tried to meet them?
We have to wait for a full investigation before we can answer another question better, but what if young Michael and officer Darren had known each other? Might the outcome of their confrontation have unfolded differently?
Over half of America doesn’t know their neighbors’ names. We’ve fractured into so many groups. Many online networks only further the discord and alienation present in our person-to-person relationships. Nextdoor reminds us that we’re neighbors first and foremost – before our political affiliations, our occupations, and so much more so than our personal group of online friends.
We share the same weather, the same worries for our families, the same local concerns. Before we rally around the people of Ferguson or decide what is the appropriate reaction in that community, let’s all first ask ourselves Who’s living next door?