I was on the phone with my sister, ranting over the most recent family drama, strategizing how we were going to respond. I was wearing my red London Fog raincoat, and a colorful printed hijab, cell phone in hand, pacing my 200-foot-long cement driveway, emotions running high.
About 15 feet away from the end of my driveway, with my back to the street, I heard a shout that seemed to be directed at me. As I turned around, I saw a white pickup truck race past me. Something came flying out of the vehicle, aimed to hit me. It was a banana peel. A banana peel? A BANANA PEEL!
The truck flew by. I couldn’t catch the license plate. I screamed at it. My sister on the phone advised me to go into the safety of my house and lock the doors. I saw the truck come to a slow at the stop sign a block away. I wondered, “Can I get in my car and catch up to it?”
In a flight or fight scenario, I’m normally a flight kind of gal. I was taught never to engage with crazy. After I hung up with my sister and walked back toward my house I thought, what can I do? I called the mayor. The mayor of my town (Brooklyn Park) is in my cell phone. I left a voicemail. He texted me back to say he was in a meeting.
I texted him back to explain what just happened. Suddenly, I’m scared. I’m starting to shake. It dawns on me that someone who decides it is acceptable to throw something at me in my own driveway knows where I live.I felt unsafe. I started to hate my neighborhood. I wished we had never moved to this community.
I called my husband at work and told him I want a security system set up around the house, to protect us and our kids. I started thinking about applying for a permit and buying a gun.
I was home alone. The mayor happened to be sitting next to the Deputy Chief of Police when he got my text, who advised me to call 911. “Don’t hesitate. Don’t waste time!”
I raced inside my home and called 911. I told the dispatcher what happened. In my community, perhaps partly because of my connections, it did not take long before a police officer was at my door. He wrote down information in his notebook.
The Mind Game
Still feeling insecure after he left, I reflected that I have never felt welcomed. Then … I stopped that line of thinking.
My neighbors are great! They have helped with our yard, shared cookies during Ramadan, invited us over for house parties. Our National Night Out potlucks are welcoming.
I decided this truck driver was not from my neighborhood.
I posted the incident in the NextDoor app, alerting neighbors to be on the lookout. I was overwhelmed by the amount of support and empathy I received from 22 neighbors. Many asked for more description, as if to launch their own investigation.
On Deeper Reflection
1. It is a privilege that I know my mayor, have his number, and was able to ask him for help.
2. We should not hesitate to call the police to report hate crimes. (Unless you are Black, which unfortunately tends to be a different story.)
3. We do not need more guns, but more community connection, to feel less afraid. When people know you and your stories, they connect with you, relate to your experiences, and can empathize. On the other hand, when you feel isolated, disconnected, and unable to know who to turn to for support, it is easier to simply remain stuck in fear.
After I started to share my experiences and my needs as a resident, I had deeper connections to the people around me — and the city became my home.
I have lived in my city for more than 16 years. It took 12 years before I got involved in my community and got more acquainted with my neighbors. It took a long time for me to realize that I could contact City Hall and ask to meet the mayor or my city council representatives.
It was the relationships I built with my neighbors and city officials that made me feel safer, protected, and accepted — not a gun.
My city is diverse and continues work to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone. Because of that, I have been able to evolve from feeling welcomed, to being included, to realizing that I belong.
Nausheena Hussain is social justice activist and the Executive Director of Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment. She recently was elected Vice Chair of the Human Rights Commission for the City of Brooklyn Park.