Monday, July 30, 2012

Light Means it's Safe, Right?


by Loren Cruise

When I close my eyes and summon images of the Boston I know and love, I see myself standing beside the reflecting pool at the Christian Science Church, watching the waves sparkle in the sun. I see people running and biking by me on the Esplanade as I relax on the bank of the Charles River. I see myself in the crowd of onlookers watching a man in a kilt juggling on a unicycle outside of Quincy Market. These images make me feel warm and comfortable. Safe and happy to be in such an amazing city.

What I don’t see when I close my eyes is me, by myself, in the dark, trying to find the safest way to get home when I suddenly feel scared and alone. I don’t picture my walk home, jumping at any sound and looking over my shoulder every other second because I have that feeling that someone is there.

The city I love is Boston when the sun is up and people are everywhere. I must admit that I am afraid of the dark sometimes, even when I am not in the city. I associate light with safety and darkness with danger. When I read the news, I see story after story about people being robbed when they are walking Boston alone at night, and that confirms my fears that nighttime draws out the anger and violence in people.

On February 29, 2012, someone was robbed around midnight by four men with a knife near Boston University. In March, two separate robberies, the victims both female, occurred in the middle of the night in Cambridge. In the Brookline area, starting in March, multiple women were attacked at night and their phones were stolen. In Coolidge Corner in early July, another woman was robbed close to midnight, this time by a man with a gun. Need I continue? I can see what these all incidents have in common and my fear of the night is justified.

However, I recently became aware of a different type of news story. A middle-aged man sat feeding ducks in Longwood Park when he was approached by a robber who demanded that he hand over his phone and cash. When the man refused, the robber stabbed him. This happened, to my surprise, at 12:30 in the afternoon. The afternoon, the time I feel so safe in Boston.

Perhaps it is because I am from a small town where people leave their cars running when they drop off a package at the post office and no one even thinks to lock their front doors. Perhaps I am a little naïve because when I questioned some people who live or go to school in the area about what they thought of the recent incident, I expected them to be as shocked and horrified as I was. “These kinds of things happen in Boston. They happen in Quincy. They happen in Dorchester. They just happen and people have to be cautious and smart,” said Austin, a Simmons College student.

Wheelock College sent out a public safety advisory to all its students, describing robber who attacked the man in Longwood Park as, “a white male in his early 30s about 5’9”. The man was wearing a gray skull cap, a black and white tank top with a U.S. flag on it and dark-colored shorts. He has a tattoo on his right arm.” Wheelock advised its students to “be aware of your surroundings” and walk with a friend if going out at night. They encouraged students to carry a noisemaker, as well. While pepper spray was the first thing I thought of when I realized I am thoroughly not prepared for any sort of attack, the Boston police department makes a good point that, while it could be an effective weapon against an attacker, it could also be turned on you by an attacker. Another piece of advice I found from the Boston police department was not to resist. If they want your phone, give them your phone. It’s not worth putting yourself in danger. In the case of the man from Longwood Park, he refused to hand over his phone and money which prompted the robber to stab him. More advice from the Boston Police Department about how to protect yourself can be found on its website: cityofboston.gov/police.

While ideally you have a noisemaker in your purse, you are super aware of your surroundings, and you’re walking with an escort of four large, muscular guys, reality is that sometimes you do find yourself alone and vulnerable at night. “I have to park at the Longwood campus,” says Alicia, a Wheelock graduate student, “and I have to cross through the park. It’s completely dark, there’s no lights there. It’s just scary and I pretty much don’t feel safe. But, sometimes I just have to walk by myself.” Jennifer, a Wheelock undergraduate student, said, “Saturday night, I had to walk to the Copley T station from a friend’s house alone. Trains kept going by, but my train didn’t come. People were getting on those trains, so it was pretty much deserted. I finally got on a train to Kenmore because I knew people would be coming out of the Red Sox game and I wouldn’t be alone. When I’m with a group of people, I feel safe. When I’m alone, no.”

When I asked Alicia, Austin, and Jennifer if they felt safe walking around Boston during the day, especially after the recent attack, they all said yes, without a question. This logic confused me a little. Did I not just tell them about a man being stabbed? “We’re sometimes oblivious about what could happen to us. I hear about the things that happen around Boston and I’m like, ‘I know that spot! I was there yesterday!’ But, it didn’t happen to me or anyone I know, so there’s kind of a disconnect.”

The final question is, will this incident change our lives? I think the answer is, “not really.” Maybe we’ll be a little more aware of our surroundings, but in reality, this isn’t a new thing. There has always been crime in Boston and we all know that. “The fact that it happened so close to campus kind of freaks me out, I’m not going to lie,” said Jennifer, “But, no, it doesn’t really change anything.”

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