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Can I help you?

Anthony Martin recounts his experience of racial prejudice in his own neighborhood of 17 years and offers some simple advice to passersby.
Sigsbee Park

Sigsbee Park /Courtesy of ECA

Underwriting support from:
Anthony Martin

Anthony Martin /Courtesy of ECA

Anthony Martin and other volunteers

Anthony Martin and other volunteers /Courtesy of ECA

Written by Anthony Martin, ECA Vice President

I am a committed Eastown resident who cares about his community and the improvement of Sigsbee Park. I have personally been involved with the welfare and improvement of Sigsbee Park since 2009; I have organized and participated in Sigsbee Park clean ups and help maintain the playground and garden. I was involved with the fundraising for park signage, so residents could recognize the park for public use. Eastown's very own artist Reb Roberts created four signs; in order to help give the park an Eastown feel. I personally installed all four signs at the park.

Are you asking yourself why am I telling you this information and why the title “Can I help you?”

Last year, the summer of 2013, some college students stole two of the four park signs. I was sad and upset that the signs were stolen but optimistic we would get them back because they were one of a kind and easy to spot. Lindsey Ruffin, the executive director of the Eastown Community Association, tracked down the culprits and told them to return the signs or else the police would be involved. A couple of days later one of the signs returned; Lindsey asked if I would install the sign again and I told her I would.

I often volunteer, do odd jobs and help out with a lot of the events for the ECA. I have friends and family that volunteer their time as well. I and a very large friend picked up the sign and proceeded to install it for a second time.

We arrived at the park at 11 a.m. in a black Ford F250 and took the sign out to install. I was putting the sign up when out the corner of my eye I saw a guy staring at us from the corner of the park. The “gentleman” got into his black Dodge truck and watched us for at least five minutes. He then drove off; within two minutes we saw him driving down Benjamin Street watching us mount the sign. A few minutes later another man in a red truck came down Benjamin slowly and watched me and my friend “handling” the sign; he turned down Sigsbee Street and continued to watch us. Next, literally two to three minutes later, a lady drives down Benjamin in a brown van was driving very slow and watching us! The “lady” then got on her phone and made a call. My friend and I looked at each other; we both felt something weird was going on. We began to feel uncomfortable. A few minutes after the “lady” left the “gentleman” in the black truck drove past three more times watching us. The last time he drove by, he was on his phone talking, I finally asked him, "Can I help You?" He kept driving. Then I noticed the “lady” in the brown van drive down Sigsbee Street, she was still on her phone and watching us too!

These three people, within a 20 minute span made me feel uncomfortable in my own neighborhood; a neighborhood I have lived in for 17 years! While we are watching the “lady” that was on her phone watching us, three cop cars pulled up on me and my friend with urgency!

We looked at each other and said “You have got to be kidding me!” One of the police officers suddenly got out of his car; it was one of the Eastown neighborhood officers, Jeremy Huffman. Jeremy looked at me and said, “Tony, are you stealing that sign?” I and Officer Huffman start laughing. He said, “I got a call that two big black men were stealing the park sign!” I continued to laugh in disbelief.

We did get the sign mounted and left the park. After everything was over, I sat down and thought about those 20 minutes. I wondered why they didn’t notice us when we took the sign out of the truck and walked it across the park lawn before we started installing the sign. I wondered why they did not notice the sign being taken down but only noticed when it was being put up. I wondered why their first reaction was to call the police instead of asking us what we were doing or saying “Can I help you?”

Four simple words can go a long way. Those four words can make a difference in a person’s day or even their life. We are neighbors and those two “gentlemen” and “lady” were too afraid to ask another neighbor, “Can I help you”? You shouldn’t live in or move into a neighborhood if you're too afraid to ask your neighbors or someone working in your neighborhood park “Can I help you?” before you decide to call the police. This infuriated me. I was profiled by people in my own neighborhood. I was profiled in a neighborhood that I have lived in for 17 years and have volunteered many hours of my time. I don’t want to insinuate racial profiling; however, all three people I referred to were white. All three happened to be making a call while driving by. If at least one of them would have stopped and asked “Can I help you?” or asked what I was doing, they would have learned my name is Tony Martin, I am a contractor and I am Vice President of the Eastown Community Association.

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Thanks for sharing this story, Tony. Eastown is so fortunate to have you and your family and we're all blessed to call you friend and neighbor!