Are our priorities in order?

Published 9:30 am Saturday, August 3, 2013

Franklin, for all of its quirks and idiosyncrasies, is in most ways like any other small city I’m familiar with. Generally speaking, it is a great place to live and to work. There are many close-knit relationships and a sense of familiarity that easily develop here, even if you are not native to the community. It is an easy place to fall in love with if you are relatively new, and a place in which many want to stay and live in forever if it is your hometown. It is rich with history and traditions that are unique to Franklin, yet not altogether unlike those in other communities.

But, like any place else, it is not without its flaws.

As is the case with many other communities in Southside Virginia, the previous decade has not been kind in terms of the economy. As a result the unemployment rate is unacceptably high, and the predictable fallout has been a steadily declining middle class. Much hard work has been done to reverse the trend, and a number of positive announcements recently been made with regard to new industry and new jobs prove that out. And, I optimistically suspect, that there are even more to come. But for the time being, times are still a little tight, and no one feels that more than the working poor or unemployed.

Which makes it understandable, to a certain extent, that a group of citizens would join together to give a unified voice to their collective concerns. The group formerly known as Concerned Citizens Against High Utility Bills is a perfect example. Believing their utility bills were unjustly high, a group of individuals unified to air their grievances with the city to push for change. While I don’t believe that their fundamental complaints were based in fact or sound reasoning, I absolutely believe that organizing for the purpose of bringing attention to their cause was both well within their rights and the most effective way to go about demanding change. Having run into a proverbial brick wall on their complaints over high utility bills, the group, led by Linwood Johnson, has changed its name and the scope of their issues. Now seeking to be known as Citizens United Against High Taxes, Johnson recently stated that the group’s purpose would be to “keep real estate taxes low, promote economic growth and opportunity for all citizens, only support redevelopment that respects and protects the rights of all property owners, and find an equitable solution to lower the garbage, water and electric bills that will make this city attractive for people and businesses to move into” (“Citizens group dissolves, new group arises,” by Cain Madden, The Tidewater News, Wednesday, July 24, 2013).

At face value, this seems a noble calling and a fitting set of issues for a community group, and in reality the entire community, to strive for. But this list of issues paints an incomplete picture, leaving out some significant problems that should not only make it onto this list, but also create an outcry of protest that far exceeds the volume of one aimed at high electric bills.

Which brings me back to my original point.

Franklin, like every other community, has its imperfections. Including, but not limited to, the fact that we experience crime. Usually it’s the garden-variety property crimes, cars being broken into, homes being burglarized and those sorts of things, which fill the police blotters but largely fly under the public radar.

But violent crimes, the ones that grab our attention and tend to linger longer in our collective consciousness, happen as well. They do not set us apart, as violent crimes affect all communities at one time or another, whether it is in Chicago, Ill., or Sanford, Fla. It’s the way we seem to react to them, or more specifically don’t react, that does.

It was just last Wednesday, July 24, when Franklin citizens awoke to learn that two people, a 17-year-old girl and a 48-year-old woman, had in separate incidents been attacked and sexually assaulted by the same man. No public vigil was held. Community leaders issued no statements. Yet on Wednesday, July 31, a program was held by a local seniors’ group to show support for the family of Trayvon Martin, the young man shot and killed during an altercation in Sanford nearly 18 months ago. No civic group, not even one whose stated objective is to “make this city attractive for people and businesses to move into,” has uttered a single word decrying the senseless and violent crimes that took place right here in Franklin a little more than one week ago.

I find it a sad state of affairs, indeed, when a light bill generates a public reaction and the assault and rape of two of the city’s residents does not.

Franklin has problems like every other community. I just wonder if we know what our priorities are.