1 Adam 12, See the woman at 121 Spring Street…
In our city paper last week there was a bad story about a murder in a small local town. A man who lived alone out in the country subdivided his property, and then sold a second lot, retaining a common driveway. The neighbors had problem after problem with each other for years.
Apparently things came to a climax last week when the man believed that his neighbor had stolen a six-pack of beer from his porch. He went over to the neighbors house to confront him, “words were had” and before everything was done the man had killed his neighbor with a machete, nearly decapitating him.
Awful? Yes. Gruesome? Yes. Grizzly? Yes. Uncommon, unfortunately not – at least in type, if not with a killing result. When I was on the bench I saw similar cases at least once a month on our Protection from Harassment docket. Usually these disputes were in the middle range of conflict, having progressed beyond mere unhappiness into threats of one kind or another, but no physical violence.
In one case, which I heard repeatedly over a period of about a year, Neighbor A had a commercial trucking business and made a point of starting his trucks as loudly as possible at 4 AM each morning. Neighbor B responded by walking up and down the property line, discharging his shotgun into the air over his property. ” Just random target practice, judge.” Sure.
I would often refer to these cases from the bench as “Adam-12 cases”. When I was a teen I loved to watch the TV series called Adam 12 and I recalled one episode where at the beginning of the episode the two police officers were sent to a residence where one neighbor was blowing grass clippings onto another neighbor’s property. (“1-Adam-12, see the woman at 121 Spring Street about a neighbor dispute.”) There were three or four more escalating responses during the half hour and then at the end, finally a response to a murder call.
The point here applies to relationships as well as to neighbors. In general, inter-personal problems that are not honestly and effectively addressed and resolved don’t go away; they just get worse. Sometimes the crisis comes all at once. Other times the problem will fester unobserved before a long-delayed explosion. Still other times one small incident will trigger a series of responses and counter-responses of increasing seriousness. Every now and then the response will be fatal.
When I saw these neighbor disputes, I would try to do what I could to keep the peace and prevent further escalation. However, I often thought that there would not be real peace in the neighborhood until one party or the other moved.
The lesson here is a good one for all interpersonal relationships, whether between intimate partners, other relatives, neighbors, office-mates or business partners. Nip problems in the bud. Try and surface a problem in a neutral and non-threatening way while its manageable. If you are unable to deal with the problem yourself, help is usually available. Many communities have mediation services that can help with neighbor or family problems. If that’s not possible, perhaps your local police supervisor would be willing to have a quiet word with your neighbor. If there is a common entity that both parties have a valuable relationship with, such as a church, or a grandparent, perhaps the respected elder can take a hand.
In any event two things to remember: 1) If you “sweep it under the rug” and hope it will get better on its own; chances are, it won’t, and 2) the object should not be to get an apology for past wrongs, or to “win” an argument. Limit your goals to coming up with a workable solution to prevent further confrontations.
Senior Policy Advisor