While I was away this past weekend, it would seem all hell broke loose in Ypsilanti. An Eastern Michigan University student athlete by the name of Demarius Reed was shot to death in an apparent robbery on Friday morning, after leaving a party at the University Green Apartments, at the 700 block of West Clark Road, near the intersection of Leforge and Green. Also on Friday morning, campus police were called to EMU’s Walton Residence Hall to investigate a dice game that had escalated into a fight, in which one student was robbed. And, later that night, yet another EMU student reported being beaten. According to the student, who was hospitalized as a result of the attack, he was walking though the parking lot of the Peninsular Place Apartments, not too far from where Demarious Reed was killed less than 24 hours earlier, when he was set upon by a group of five or six men in an older silver van. The same van full of men, it would appear, may have also responsible for the severe beating and robbery of another EMU student early Sunday morning, in the parking lot of Abe’s Coney Island, just off of Michigan Avenue. And, over this same weekend, there were two instances of rape reported by EMU students – both of which allegedly took place in EMU’s Putnam Residence Hall… I hesitate to bring any of this up, as 1) I don’t feel as though these isolated events necessarily prove that our community is becoming significantly more dangerous, and 2) I don’t want to further feed the imaginations of those who already feel as though Ypsilanti is an unsafe community, but I feel as though not mentioning it would be worse. For whatever reason, this weekend was an incredibly horrible one for our community, and I think that it’s something we need to at least discuss… Following are my rough thoughts. Take them for what they’re worth.
1. I should point out right up front that, as I understand it, arrests have already been made in the case of the dorm robbery, and that suspects have been identified in the two sexual assaults. This, of course, isn’t to say that there’s no immediate danger. However, I think it’s important to point out that progress is being made, at least in some of these cases.
2. I obviously don’t know what causes episodes like this to occur. I’m hesitant to say that this weekend’s penumbral eclipse of the hunter’s moon could have had anything to do with it, but it does seem as though flare-ups like this come in waves, are somewhat cyclical in nature, and often coincide with nice weather and changes in season. I may be forgetting an episode, but the last time I remember anything similar happening was about three years ago, when a series of violent crimes shook the community. This isn’t to say that we should just accept that these things will happen every few years. We shouldn’t. I do, however, think it’s important to note that, as awful as this weekend’s crimes may have been, they may not, in and of themselves, prove that we’re seeing a significant statistical uptick in crime.
3. The community is coming together to discuss this. A meeting between EMU leaders and City officials has been called for Tuesday. Among other things, one suspects that the policing of student apartment complexes like University Green and Peninsular Place will be on the agenda. I could be wrong, but my sense is that criminal activities are on the rise in these areas, and I’d like to think that EMU might be willing to contribute toward a coordinated campaign to see that trend reversed. (note: Police are still investigating the murder of EMU student Julia Niswender, who was drowned in her Peninsular Place apartment, and the death of John Lawrence who was killed during an altercation between his daughter and her Peninsular Place roommates. “It’s had issues,” Councilman Pete Murdock said to the Ann Arbor News today, referring to Peninsular Place. “When it was first built that wasn’t the case. But, over the years, more apartments got built on the township side. The character of the area has changed. The area was predominately students.”)
4. This is probably a good time for each of us to remember that we always need to be aware of our surroundings. I know it’s tempting to listen to music on your ipod as you’re walking around town, but doing so makes you a lot less aware of your surroundings. And the same goes for talking on the phone. I know some people carry pepper spray, and even guns, but, in most cases, I don’t think there’s anything as effective as vigilance and common sense. Don’t walk alone at night. Don’t drink too much. Don’t take shortcuts through desolate areas. Don’t engage in conversations with strangers in areas where others can’t see you. Don’t be afraid to run the other way if things don’t feel right. And don’t hesitate to call your friends for help if you need them. Sure, you can do everything right, and horrible things can still happen, but you can greatly reduce your risk by staying observant and practicing in advance how you’d react if confronted by certain unwelcome events.
5. If you know anything about any of these as-yet-to-be-solved cases, I’d encourage you to call the Ypsilanti police at 734-483-9510, or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-SPEAK UP (773-2587). You can do so anonymously.
6. One wonders how, if at all, today’s crime rates might be different had we chosen, as a community, to raise taxes instead of slashing public safety budgets. At the risk of derailing this conversation, here’s a short clip from something I wrote in May of last year, after the income tax was voted down for the second time.
…Hopefully, now that the votes have been cast, the folks who fought so hard not to avoid open, honest debate on the future of our community, will come forward with their ideas as to how we can fend off the Emergency Manager that awaits us, as we teeter on the edge of the budget abyss, contemplating draconian cuts to City services. As the folks at the Chamber just recently said, now it’s time for Steve Pierce and the Stop City Income Tax folks to step up, and “provide their own solutions.” It’s easy in today’s economy to rally support for lower taxes. The hard part is coming up with a plan that, in spite of decreased funding, keeps public safety officers on the street, busses running, schools open and the community thriving… I know it’s only been five years, but one would hope they’d have something to share by now…
As far as I know, those individuals who led the Stop City Income Tax campaign have yet to respond.
7. EMU President Susan Martin sent a letter to the university community this afternoon abut the murder of Demarius Reed, and, one would assume, all of these other recent events. Here’s a clip.
…On Friday, many students who attended the campus forum indicated their interest in raising awareness of the larger issue of off-campus safety and security for our students and neighbors in the community. To that end, EMU students are planning a Stop the Violence march, rally and candlelight vigil this Thursday, October 24. It will begin at 4:30 p.m. on the north side of the Student Center, with a march beginning at 5 p.m., before returning for a rally and candlelight vigil at the outdoor amphitheater next to the Lake House. I encourage everyone who is interested to join me at the vigil and show support at these events.
This senseless tragedy reflects a community issue that needs the attention of University administration, community leaders and students and others beyond our campus boundaries. We have initiated a dialogue with the city that will lead to a broader discussion of overall safety in the neighborhoods surrounding the EMU campus. We plan to have an initial meeting this week that will include University administration, student leaders, and Ypsilanti city leadership.
Tomorrow at 4 p.m., we will hold a campus and community forum in the ballroom of the Student Center, in which Ypsilanti Interim Police Chief Tony DiGiusti and other city leaders will discuss the latest information about the investigation as well as efforts by the city and police to address safety and security concerns in off campus locations, and be available for questions…
Maybe I’m just a bit sensitive, given some of the town-gown interactions I’ve seen in the past, but I take some offense to Martin’s framing this as an “off-campus safety and security” issue, especially when two rapes are thought to have occurred on campus this weekend, and one of the robberies noted at the beginning of this post took place in an EMU dorm. (I’m not suggesting it’s the case, but it’s also conceivable that EMU students could have been involved in some way in these other crimes as well.) I understand they’ve got a business to run, and that it might serve them best, at least in the short term, to present this as an “Ypsilanti problem,” but they should know better, especially given their history when it comes to being less than truthful about on-campus crime. The bottom line is that this effects both of us, and we need to work together on solutions… For instance, what if EMU were to start contributing toward powering the street lights which we’re having a difficult time keeping lit? Or, better yet, what if they start contributing toward the policing of the City? And, what if, instead of encouraging people not to enter the city, they did the exact opposite? What if they more aggressively encouraged their faculty and staff to live in the community? What if they encouraged their students to get involved in local non-profits, and spend time in town? Might that do more to solve the problem than warning the university community to be fearful of those of us who live just outside the campus?