Here it is, the last day of July. I've come to think of the past month as the doldrums in Norristown, though I could call it worse. We started with no Independence Day Parade. That same weekend we had break-ins in the West End. A boat used for kids' programs was stolen and hasn't been recovered yet. A bunch of houses on Kohn St. were tagged with graffiti. The month ended with a 22-year-old being shot and killed, allegedly after breaking into a house.
After each of these, the comments posted on social media were all of the same ilk: "What do you expect? This is Norristown."
The month also ended with a man (someone visiting a friend) who decided to push his 2nd amendment rights to the limit by open-carrying a loaded, pistol-grip, sawed-off shotgun around the Forrest Avenue area. Pennsylvania has pretty lax gun laws, but even so, a pistol-grip, sawed-off shotgun is barely legal. Guns like those have to be over a certain length and/or require a special permit. It's not the kind of decision an ordinary citizen can or should make. The ordinary citizens who saw him did the right thing and called 911 (besides the gun, his bulletproof vest probably worried them a bit, too). West Norriton police were the first ones to stop him. They questioned him, handed back his gun and ammo and let him go on his way.
Norristown police stopped him next. Our cops showed infinitely more wisdom--they cited him for causing public panic. Inciting panic trumps constitutional rights--you can't yell "Fire!" in a theater even though you have the right to freedom of speech. Our police also determined that the man was not "in a right mental frame of mind to be walking around the streets with a loaded shotgun." They confiscated his weapon and told him he could pick it up later at the station. That gave the police the chance to run a background check on the man (and he did have a prior arrest for making terroristic threats).
The Times Herald article said that the man told the police he wouldn't open-carry anymore, but said nothing more about the outcome. I assume he got his weapon back and carried it around concealed instead (yeah, that makes me feel MUCH better). I hope that he finished his visit and is now gone. But I applaud the Norristown police for how they handled him.
Now, for that last incident you can't say "What do you expect? This is Norristown." Not the kind of thing that happens here every day. And when our police do a great job, no one EVER says "What do you expect? This is Norristown."
In fact, when good things happen within our borders, no one ever says "What do you expect? This is Norristown."
This coming month, we'll have at least 4 festivals (counting Family Unity Day), and no one will say "What do you expect? This is Norristown."
We have 2 professional live theaters on one street and a growing arts scene. Not something you'll find anywhere else in this area outside of Philly. We have live music somewhere in Norristown every weekend, often at more than one venue, and often with free admission. No one says "What do you expect? This is Norristown."
A few other river communities have boating, but our boats come with drums and dragons. We have dragon-boating members of Team USA training on our stretch of the river, yet no one says "What do you expect? This is Norristown."
We have some of the best restaurants in the entire surrounding area, some of the best public parks, an awesome zoo, great architecture, more kinds of sports teams, more cultural diversity (which in my mind boils down again to more great food). We have active non-profit organizations doing their best to make this town better. And we have some of the kindest, most generous people on the planet living and working here.
Bad things happen in other communities. You don't hear everyone in Philly saying "What do you expect? This is Philadelphia" every time a crime happens there. If a human being put him/herself down every time something went wrong the way this town does, that person would be called clinically depressed.
It's time we changed our attitude and started saying "What do you expect? This is Norristown" for all the things we're proud of.