Safety and Security Know No Border
In my never-ending obsession with controlling the world around me, I like to be prepared for what lies ahead, especially when heading from our house in the Pines toward downtown to shop or dine in the summer. How crowded will it be? Can I snag a table without a reservation at Ava’s?
While my barometer is not scientific, there are certain reliable clues that factor into the assessment: 1) How far away from Rehoboth Avenue cars are parked on the street? If they are outside our backdoor, I know to expect lots of strollers and meandering families clogging the sidewalks. 2) The number of bikes passing by our kitchen window. Our house sits a few houses from Henlopen Avenue, which is now a bicycle thoroughfare for those heading to Gordon’s Pond. Vehicles weaving around lollygagging groups has become a dangerous sport of late. 3) Noise coming from two Airbnb homes nearby. For some reason, visitors in these mega-mansions seem to forget that they are staying in a quiet neighborhood—a huge pet peeve of mine.
On my many dog walks during the day, I also notice many of our neighbors in the Pines often leave their expensive bicycles unlocked in their driveways. They almost never lock their car or house doors. This constantly amazes me because living in Washington, DC, for more than 40 years taught me a valuable lesson: people steal things left unattended and accessible.
When I tell houseguests to keep their car and our house doors always locked, they usually look shocked because the Nation’s Summer Capital appears tranquil and safe. “You worry too much” is a common refrain. Unfortunately, being a gay, Jewish man in today’s world has trained me to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
Sadly, I have personal experiences to back up this point of view. While living in DC, someone jumped over a wall to access our garage and stole items from my car which was unlocked at the time. After leaving a party at our house one night, a friend was mugged a few steps from our front door. As street crime became more prevalent in our part of the city, we made the decision to install a security system with cameras. Most importantly, I am always aware of my surroundings day and night when walking, never taking my safety for granted.
We have not been immune to threats here in Rehoboth. During the 2020 election, someone entered our yard on two occasions and removed LGBTQ-themed Biden for President yard signs. Just last year, we were one of close to 200 homes in Rehoboth that woke up to find antisemitic flyers thrown into our yard from a passing car. In both cases, the culprits were not caught.
However, it was a gay bashing in 1991 where a good friend of ours was one of two gay men assaulted on Rehoboth Avenue on a summer Saturday night that was a gut punch. This occurred at a time when some full-time residents expressed their anti-gay sentiments in the form of bumper stickers reading, “Keep Rehoboth a Family Town.” A poor response from both city officials and the local police was one of the final straws for Steve Elkins and Murray Archibald when they founded CAMP Rehoboth.
Since that time, CAMP Rehoboth has established a close relationship with the Rehoboth Beach Police Department, helping to raise awareness about the harassment LGBTQ people experience while walking down the street, on the beach, and even when in some business establishments. Our relationship includes conducting sensitivity training for the city’s summer seasonal cadets for the past two decades, and—more recently—for Delaware Natural Resources and Environmental Control officers, and state park personnel as well.
Even though Delaware is one of 22 states that has passed hate crime legislation for crimes committed with bias toward particular characteristics like sexual orientation and gender identity, hate is alive and well locally and across the nation.
From June 2022 to April 2023, ADL and GLAAD tracked at least 356 incidents of anti-LGBTQ+ hate and extremism in the United States, according to a recent report. Of the 356 total incidents, there were 305 incidents of harassment, 40 incidents of vandalism, and 11 incidents of assault. These alarming statistics reinforce the importance of CAMP Rehoboth enhancing safety protocols on our campus and at our events.
Just three weeks after starting her job, Executive Director Kim Leisey met with Rehoboth Police Chief Keith Banks and City Manager Laurence Christian to discuss this growing epidemic of violence and understand how we can work together to keep our community safe. Kim’s 20 years of experience on the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s campus included convening the campus threat assessment team. That experience, combined with the city’s resources and expertise, will help CAMP Rehoboth implement immediate interventions while also developing a comprehensive plan.
I know my column this issue is not “light beach reading,” but safety is a topic that weighs heavily on the minds of CAMP Rehoboth staff, board, and volunteers. The safety and security of our community is a priority—and not just because it’s part of our mission and name (Create A More Positive Rehoboth). Stay safe out there, everyone.▼
Wesley Combs is CAMP Rehoboth Board President.