Monday, May 09, 2005

Crime and punishment

One of the dirty little not-so-secret secrets at my community garden is that its more secluded spots are a magnet for assorted, well, riff-raff. At various times of the day and night, gardeners, and visitors, may encounter quite a spectrum of humanity, ranging from day-laborers who have nowhere else to go at the moment (they are generally not a bother at all), to run-of-the-mill homeless people looking for a place to sleep or drink their cheap beer, to completely wasted crack addicts who seek their fix in the garden's darker corners.

Knowing all of that, it was still depressing to see the havoc these people wrecked on our beloved garden. At Saturday's monthly work party, we discovered that plants had been yanked out of the ground because they had the audacity to be located where some of these, ahem, gentlemen wished to sit. Dozens of thick cobblestones had been dug up from around our beautiful solar-powered fountain. And one poor gardener had a good portion of her plot crushed because someone decided to use it as a bed.

I hate vandalism in all forms, but to put so much love and care into growing and building a garden that is a joy to many more people than just those who garden there, only to have it carelessly destroyed by people who have no business being there in the first really makes my blood boil.

So how apropos that, just as I was standing where the worst of the damage occured, discussing it with the garden coordinator, we look up to see two of that exact sort of people physically threatening a fellow gardener.

The gardener was wielding his rake defensively as one of the interlopers swung punches at him. For a moment, I thought that they were joking around. Then I read the tension in the gardener's body language: This was no joke.

We ran up to the other side of the fence from where this scene was playing out. "He called the police 10 minutes ago," a gardener said. Apparently, the two very drunk and very threatening Hispanic men took offense to being politely asked to move along.

Pissed off, and feeling bold thanks to the whole safety-in-numbers thing, I used my firmest, most forbidding voice to loudly tell the trespassers to go away and leave the gardener alone. No takers. So I informed them I was calling the police, whipped out my cell phone, and called 911. You would think that the fact that someone was being threatened with physical agression in a community garden in the middle of the day would bring a speedy response. Alas, no. It took a good 10 minutes for bike cops to show up, during which one of the agressors decided to lie down and take a nap, and the other took a walk, then returned. So frustrating.

I had to head home at that point, so I don't know how this drama played out in the end. But I have the sinking feeling that even if the dasterdly duo got hauled off to jail, nothing will really change. We will always garden knowing that our work can be destroyed at any time. So we hope for the best, and try to prepare for the worst.

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