MAXWELL:  How about a little neighborly respect?

7/21/1999 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


By now, most Tampa Bay area residents know about the “KKK” graffiti that was painted on the garage door of Melissa Metcalfe and Frank Jackalone, who live in St. Petersburg at 6734 30th St. S in Pinellas Point. Metcalfe and Jackalone are white.

They suspect that their neighbors across the street, Harold and Betty Jones, are at least indirectly responsible for the graffiti. Betty Jones is the mother of Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Gary Sheffield and the sister of Cleveland Indians pitcher Dwight Gooden. Metcalfe and Jackalone say they have reason to suspect the Joneses, who are black. Metcalfe and Jackalone, along with several of their neighbors, have filed noise complaints against the Joneses and believe the graffiti is retaliation.

During the last two years alone, police have received 25 complaints about late-night and early-morning noise coming from the Joneses’ $243,400 house. One complaint came in at 5:53 a.m. Metcalfe and Jackalone say they have personally asked the Joneses to turn down the volume, only to be insulted or threatened.

The bottom line is that Metcalfe and Jackalone are having trouble sleeping in their own home, and they believe that the police department is insensitive to their pleas.

“KKK” graffiti suggests, of course, that Metcalfe and Jackalone are racists. I have met the couple and am familiar with their years of civil rights work in Florida and Georgia.

“We moved here because we wanted to live on a racially mixed block,” Metcalfe said. “We felt that it was really important to show that kind of confidence. When we moved in, the riots had just happened. When we bought the house, we also bought the black T-shirts that read “St. Petersburg Together.’ ”

What I have described above is one side of this nasty drama. Here, now, is the other side, the one that most of us are too afraid to discuss openly: All too often, black people bring trouble _ especially loud music _ to previously tranquil neighborhoods, which is what has happened on 30th Street S.

I know many people, some of them black, including several co-workers at the St. Petersburg Times, who must endure their noisy black neighbors. I, too, have had noisy black neighbors. Most recently, a man on a street behind the house I rent would play loud music after midnight. Two of my white neighbors asked for my advice. Knowing that the police would act anemically, I went to the man’s house the next morning and told him that his gangsta rap was keeping his neighbors awake.

His response? “Get the f— out of my yard,” he said. I left, but not before telling him _ in equally profane terms _ that we were not going to tolerate his noise. I told him that his kind of black made life unnecessarily tough for other blacks, that people like him caused “For Sale” signs to mushroom after we move into an area. I also told him that he was a redliner’s dream. His kind, I said, caused Realtors to demand disproportionately high down-payments from African-Americans, that he and his ilk cause property values to plunge.

Over the years, I have heard blacks claim that loud music is part of our culture. Nonsense. Loud music at inappropriate times, in inappropriate places is uncivil and has nothing to do with black culture. Such behavior belongs to blacks who disrespect both themselves and others.

Unlike the Joneses, however, many other blacks have lived peacefully with whites in Pinellas Point for many years. They, too, play music and have parties. But they do so appropriately, respecting the rights of their neighbors _ white and black.

Neighborly respect is not a white thing or a black thing. It is the right thing. Metcalfe and Jackalone, whose home I visited, are just asking for a little respect and a little sleep. Nothing more.

“This noise problem is not an issue about race,” Jackalone said. “Look at Chunky Sunday. Black people are victimizing black homeowners in the Barlett Park area. Black people are complaining about black people. It’s about noise and urinating in people’s yards. That’s not about race. For us, when we cannot sleep and must go to work the next day, when we cannot function because of someone else’s noise, that’s the problem. When we go ask our neighbors to turn down the volume and they threaten us, that’s what the problem is. It’s not about race.”

Unfortunately, Jackalone is only half right. This spectacle is not about race per se. But it becomes a matter of race when negative stereotypes _ such as that of blacks being noisy _ are acted out. These stereotypes, then, are the source of slogans such as “There goes the neighborhood” when black people move in. Now, we are talking about race and perceptions of race.