"There is much to fear . . ." intones David Schoumacher at the start of Channel 7's documentary airing tonight. "Every day in this country people are murdered or beaten or raped . . . its next target could be your neighbor or you . . ."
"Fed Up With Fear," an hour-long program produced through the cooperative efforts of local stations in five different cities, is a film that scares you and tries to encourage you at the same time.
While citing crime statistics that convince you disaster is around every corner, the program tries to sell the idea that citizens organized against crime can have an effect. And, in the hope that viewers will be motivated by the documentary (Channel 7 at 8 p.m.), at each commercial break a telephone number is flashed on the screen and an announcer says, "You can stop crime in your neighborhood too!" inviting potential crime-stoppers to send away for more information.
In Washington, D.C., the WJLA-produced segment shows us a march against drugs in the Shaw area, police chief Maurice Turner saying that if he lived in Shaw he would have a gun in his house, and a young police officer repeating the familiar complaint that replacing foot patrols with squad cars ruined the cops' effectiveness as a neighborhood crime preventer. A young ex-con is shown trying to organize a Guardian Angels-like group of youths called "The Young Dillingers," and a second-generation Washington man talks about how people watching out for each other cuts down on crime.
That, in fact, is the basic message of the program -- whether it's a block club in Minneapolis (where the reporter is undeniably pregnant -- a minor but encouraging sign from hair-spray land), senior citizens learning karate in Seattle, "safehouses" in Boston, or juvenile homes in Raleigh, N.C. To no one's surprise, it turns out that in neighborhoods where people are concerned about one another and watching out for suspicious people, ready to intervene, there is less crime.
Although the message may not be startling, the presentation certainly is. Testimony is heard from people who now feel safe where once they cringed behind locked doors, or those who feel less vulnerable thanks to the support of concerned others. Disturbing questions are unanswered, however. The "green light" program in Boston, for example, is a system whereby a house with a green light posted in the window is considered a haven for any woman being pursued by an attacker. What's to prevent a rapist from putting a green light in his window? How do well-intentioned community protection groups avoid becoming vigilantes? Is it more important to get good locks or to organize a block club?
Crime is indeed a gnawing threat to everyone, and as the program repeatedly reminds us, no one is safe. Citizens should organize and get to know each other, and television producers should learn how to communicate that idea without resorting to terror tactics of their own. Couldn't we have gotten the message without being made paranoid in the process?