For UB to go north, it needs to fix South
Published: Sunday, February 24, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2013 19:02
I knew what was happening the second I turned around.
The man who was about to rob me stood 20 yards away. It was midnight. I was returning from work. I had just closed the garage door of my University Heights home.
I saw him stampeding up my driveway when I turned around. He was small. Probably about 5-foot-5. Skinny, too. At 6-foot-3, nearly 200 pounds, I wouldn’t have blinked at the challenge under normal circumstances. But he had a gun.
A bandana covered his face and a hoodie masked his head. I remember contemplating my two distinct choices: hop a fence and try to outrun him or walk right up and see what would happen. I kept walking.
He loaded the gun. Chk-chk. He pushed it into my stomach. I remember the poke and the questions on my mind: 1. Will he actually shoot me if I don’t empty my pockets? 2. What would it feel like to get shot in the stomach?
I wasn’t interested in exploring the answers, so I obliged when he screamed in my face, demanding “give me everything!” He knew my wallet wasn’t everything – no tricking this guy – so he kept shouting and I eventually gave him my keys, too. He continued his demands, but he wasn’t getting the paycheck in my hand. I was 17 and had worked hard all week for it. Thankfully, he didn’t notice. He sped away and I called the Buffalo Police.
Two policemen showed up about 15 minutes later and told me there was nothing they could do. About a month later, the department called me in to the station and asked me to identify the robber from a picture list of 20 or so men. I couldn’t find him.
That 2008 episode marked one of seven times my family was robbed that year. I was the only one held up at gunpoint. The other incidents happened in house and car break-ins at our Lisbon Avenue home.
Robberies in the Heights have gone down since 2008, from 73 back then to 60 in 2012. But crime totals – adding homicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny and vehicle theft numbers – are exactly the same. There were 523 crimes in 2008 and 523 in 2012.
Students these days probably think it’s always been that way in that neighborhood. It hasn’t. I grew up in University Heights, and it has completely disintegrated over the past decade. The kids you see getting arrested on TV and in the news today are the kids I played basketball with in my backyard. Think of your childhood buddies who are probably off at college. I find mine in the police blotter. It’s a sign of what’s going on in that part of town. Good kids are becoming criminals to survive in the mad city.
Shortly after my driveway showdown, one of my childhood friends vowed: “I can find out who did it. We can get him.” I told him not to. I lived in constant fear.
Every time I walked to and from the Metro stop to travel between home and my high school, I felt like there was a target on my back. I didn’t go out after dark. We had bars on all our windows. Criminals still found a way to break in. One ravaged our house while my sister was asleep.
I now live off North Campus, but copious other students aren’t as lucky. The administration claims living on South is a choice. For many, it isn’t.
Do you think every student can afford the astronomical cost of living in Amherst? Or, if you tell them to live off campus in Cheektowaga or Tonawanda, do you think they all drive and can afford a car?
UB is raising tuition every year. Like me, a solid percentage of students pay for their full education with zero parental contribution. As the cost of attendance goes up, the amount of money students can spend on rent goes down.
This is a preposterous situation. The UB community shouldn’t be facing this dilemma in the first place. South Campus is just as much a part of UB as North, and it’s more a part of UB’s history. South shouldn’t be a taboo area.
Wonder why Buffalo is such an economically depressed city? It’s because the city doesn’t have one major cash hub. Steel factories are gone. Like Indianapolis has fixed its crime problems by adding the NCAA headquarters, Buffalo needs a stimulant, and for now, Western New York has banked upon UB to be that major cash crop.
Want UB 2020 to flourish? Want to continue building the athletic department? Frankly, who cares about any of those achievements if a large part of the school is a terror-ridden, crime-infested disaster area?
I can tell you who doesn’t care: students. You think they are going to promote school spirit if they feel their lives are in danger the second they step off campus? Why would they help you if you are clearly neglecting them?
I don’t live in fear any more. Students living in the Heights still do. They don’t feel secure walking up the street. If UB really wanted to fix this burgeoning problem, with all the money in its budget, it could. As flawed as the Buffalo Police Department is, the University Heights conundrum should fall at the feet of UB’s administration.
Look at the polls The Spectrum conducted this week. Students are making a statement:
They know exactly what’s happening. It’s time for UB to turn it around.