How to keep your neighborhood watch from becoming a police squad

You don't wanna be these guys, right? Then don't!

You don't wanna be these guys, right? Then don't! Susan Du

It was heartening to watch Twin Cities neighborhoods come together to protect each other last week.

It's been less heartening to see how some of those groups have developed.

What started as a robust show of community building -- neighbors exchanging cell numbers, checking alleys for combustibles, and warning one another of suspicious activity -- has in some neighborhoods spiraled into all-out paranoia.

There was the story of Jorge Aguila, as reported by Jon Collins at NPR. An auto body shop owner, Aguila moved a pickup to the street to make space inside and... thusly had the tires slashed, which he now has to pay for.

("Lesson is people are scared and lashing out at the unfamiliar, which in Minneapolis is a giant Ford F-350 with flag decal.")

Or perhaps you too have noted "Kurfew Karens" on your block, shaming neighbors for being out after 10 p.m.

Acting without thought about who you might be harming? Lashing out at those you see breaking the law? 

...It's getting to be a little police-y out there, folks. It's like if Nextdoor went outside. 

In an effort to keep people from morphing into full-on block cops, a shareable guide has emerged out of south Minneapolis's neighborhood organizing efforts: Don't recreate policing with our community watch: quick tips for non-Black neighbors. 

The Google Doc includes all kinds of helpful and easily actionable tips for those who might be new to organizing, to help them do so in ways that aren't accidentally harmful.

For example: Do doorknock, introduce yourself, and provide your contact info and house number. Don't -- and this is a big one -- play police officer, or recreate police surveillance and targeting. "Document what you observe, but only report when something actually happens." Was that person "snooping," or were they simply... walking?

Other tips? Use direct, plain language, and send it in a single message so nothing is lost in context.

"Provide only the factual information in a useful way: 'Red Chevy truck, plates XXX-123, slowly headed south on Nicollet from 24th Street, 3 white men inside flashing automatic rifles. 12:31AM,'" the doc explains. "That’s it. That’s the update."

There are links to additional resources in there too, from what to do instead of calling the police to disrupting your role in causing harm to taking anti-racist action as a white ally. 

You can access the doc at We would urge you to.