The crowd attending the annual National Night Out in Courthouse Park bow their heads in prayer during the kickoff ceremony Tuesday afternoon. (Wendy Alexander)
Madera citizens, police, firefighters, and elected officials got together at several locations for the 33rd National Night Out in Madera.
The night out on Tuesday was a way to promote partnerships between neighborhoods and local law enforcement, the goal being safer and more trusting neighborhoods.
“For 33 years, National Night Out has been a program for communities to get to know your neighbors,” said Madera Police Chief Steve Frazier at the opening ceremony, which took place at Courthouse Park. “It’s about relationship-building, isn’t it? If you come out and you’re standing on your porch, and your neighbors are on your porch, you’re not going to fall victim to crime. It’s coming out, turning your porch light on, being out in your neighborhood, and criminals see that, and that’s a deterrent.”
This year’s National Night Out comes at a time of unrest and hostility towards law enforcement across the country. Last month, two African-Americans, Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge Louisiana, and Philando Castile in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota, were killed in confrontations with police. In retaliation, an African-American sniper fatally shot five police officers in Dallas, and three officers were killed in a shooting in Baton Rouge. Last week, another police officer was shot to death in San Diego while he sat in his patrol car. His seatbelt was still on when the shots were fired.
Nonetheless, hundreds of participants came out in the 100-degree heat in 43 different locations across Madera. Events in these neighborhoods included barbecues, block parties, and ice cream socials.
“It’s a great day to be alive in the city of Madera,” said Mayor Robert Poythress.
Also in attendance was U.S. Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno.
“What we are doing this evening is what Americans are doing all across the country,” Costa said.
“I stress on our streets that it’s really important for neighbors to know neighbors,” said block captain Nancy Simpson, as she wiped shaving cream from her face, the result of being playfully hit with a cream pie by her husband, David. “And so, when we have our block party, I do street charts, and I encourage people to get to know at least their next-door neighbors, and people right in front of them.”
Simpson, whose Fillmore Avenue home had ice cream and gelatin ready for any visiting law enforcement personnel, has lived on her block for 25 years.
“We really wanted to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone and into the lives of our neighbors here,” said Pastor David Hawes of the Well Community Church, Madera.
The Well, which meets at Lincoln Elementary School, is the church attended not only by Poythress and Frazier, but also by Madera County Sheriff Jay Varney.
“We see it as absolutely valuable, and for us, our mission as a church is to help people love God, and love each other in every neighborhood,” Hawes said.
With the success and large turnout for the National Night Out, Poythress also announced plans to expand the event in years to come.
“Next year, we’re going to have over 50 neighborhoods that are organized,” Poythress said at the opening ceremony. “We’re also going to have something called ‘neighborhood of choice,’ that’s being organized right now with the Madera Realtors. Third of all, next year, we will, with our friends from the county, have our first neighborhood Night Outs in the county of Madera outside the city limits, so things are just getting better, and better, and better.”