St. George
Serbian Orthodox Church
Carmichaels, PA

Talk Given by Attorney Linda Chambers: Basic Elements of Safe Communuties

How can we feel safe in a world filled with danger? How can we feel safe in our homes and our neighborhoods? The mass killing of people in a movie theater, the bombing at the Boston Marathon and the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School horrify us. Our newspapers and televisions are saturated with stories of home invasions, drive by shootings and random attacks on innocent people. How can we feel safe when even churches are the target of vandals and thieves? What can we do to protect ourselves and the people we love from violence?

Some people believe guns are the cause of community violence; others believe guns are the solution. Some communities are surrounded by walls, with gates manned by security guards. Some homes are wired with elaborate security systems; others are guarded by ferocious dogs. Are guns and walls the solution? Is there anything we can do to stop the attacks on our safety?

Collectively, we enact laws, we fund police to enforce them and, we build prisons to house the lawbreakers. We’ve developed mental health and social service programs to help those with violent tendencies. Doesn’t appear to be working, does it?

Change must start somewhere and I suggest it start within each of us. How can we expect to have a peaceful and safe community when harboring evil within our hearts? Each person must examine his or her own identity, his or her own nature. Will this stop violence from striking us and our neighbors? Unfortunately, it will not. Self-reflection can, however, help us find our own prejudices which stop us from feeling happy and safe. Look to the Bible, our Church and our Priest for spiritual guidance. Once we have found peace within, we can then build a community based on goodwill to others. We might also, then, be able to see the anger and resentment building in the people who surround us.

It always amazes me when reporters interview the family and neighbors of a mass murderer: “He was always such a nice man.” “He comes from such a good family.” “He was always so quiet and polite.” Did these people really know the person? Did anyone take the time to know the person? Growing up, I remember all of my neighbors. Not only did I play with their children, I also drank their lemonade, talked to them while they worked on cars or in their garden and helped them if they would let me. And, I acknowledge that some neighbors were pretty territorial when it came to softballs landing in their yards. But, I knew them and they knew me and not one would have hesitated to call my Mother if I misbehaved. Would Mom then become angry with the neighbor for picking on me? Or, would I be suffering from a sore butt?

Get to know your neighbors. A community needs to be more than a municipality, more than a group of people who live close to each other. Yes, communities can form neighborhood watches to prevent crime. But, we must remember what Jesus said when asked about the greatest commandment. Matthew quotes Jesus as saying: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

What are the basic elements of a safe community? The people within it.

(Biographical Note - Linda Chambers is a Serbian Orthodox Christian working as an experienced prosecuting attorney in the Greene County Pennsylvania. District Attorney’s Office. She is regular speaker at the St. George Serbian Orthodox Church. She has been a speaker at the national level due to her prosecution experience.)

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