While C and Boo and I were headed to the Wortham to see C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, 17 year old Kelsin Flores was bleeding to death on the patio of his apartment half a mile from our house. Police responded to random gunshots in the Bel Lindo complex at W. Bellfort and Bob White, shabby apartments that have been unfairly described as “Guatemala after an earthquake."
When police arrived, things seemed calm but a search revealed Kelsin alone on his porch, shot by no one for no reason.
This is the fourth murder at the entrance to our neighborhood in less than two years.
Since we moved here, a woman’s body was found in a dumpster, a man’s body was found in a car, a woman was killed by her husband during what is euphemistically called “a dispute” and Kelsin’s life ended on a Sunday afternoon. All of these happened within a block of each other, on the same side of a busy street, half a mile from my house.
Kelsin was my neighbor.
When we returned from the play, all that remained were a few bored police officers, a small crowd of young people and some yellow tape. Reading the comments under the news story, I read about how this area is full of “trash,” “thugs,” and “ghetto.” I read one person’s evaluation that “there was probably no victim here,” implying that Kelsin got what he deserved, even though there was absolutely no information about him in the article. Several joked about the photos of the crime scene, calling the complex “a dump” and saying that no one with any pride would live there. One commenter said, “Just hope they don’t start moving to other parts of town.”
All this about a kid who will never be an adult.
I don’t know how to relate to my neighborhood. An online apartment finder ad describes it as “one of Houston’s most budget friendly areas” (which is why we are here), that it has “a diverse and sometimes challenging history,” and that it is a “melting pot of ethnicity.”
It’s actually a pretty nice place to live. The trees are big and spread their green canopies over those lucky enough to live under them. Most of the noise is from kids playing (or partying) at the pool across the street. Most days, I see parents and grandparents walking their little ones to and from school. The moms stand around outside the entry to the school waiting for the kids to get out, just like my friends and I did when our kids were in school in a very different neighborhood. Sometimes, we pass groups of families and friends, men barbecuing in the tiny green spaces outside their apartment doors, surrounded by children playing and women chatting. They look relaxed and happy and if I spoke Spanish, I might stop and talk, hoping someone would offer me a burger.
And . . . in the first five months that we lived here, I witnessed five arrests. I know that my neighborhood confronts me every day but I don’t know exactly how to respond. I know to get to know my neighbors—all of us very different from each other so that every conversation in the front yard or in our den is a cross-cultural experience. I know to pray for the kids at the elementary school when I drive by at least twice a day, and for their families and their teachers. I know to use the local businesses when I can and to smile and to make conversation when it makes sense.
But I don’t know exactly how to live in a community where a teenaged boy is randomly killed on his own patio and it is literally no big deal.