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Why not serious?

Bob Kessler | Thursday, September 25, 2008

As this school year started the student body participated in a wide array of annual traditions. Freshmen participated in Frosh-O, many students went to The Show, Dis-O events happened across campus, the football season brought many alums back to campus, and students were once again physically assaulted while they were minding their own business off campus.

Here in the northeast neighborhood of South Bend, we have serious problems regarding safety of persons and personal belongings. While the problems are not limited to the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s community, we as students are targeted for robbery and assault. All too often we hear about students getting assaulted walking home from bars, being robbed of personal belongings and being mugged at gunpoint. These are serious problems that require serious attention.

The problem is that the students-residents of the northeast neighborhood do not have serious people looking out for them. Why should we? We only pay rent to live here, pay tuition to attend school here and contribute just as much as anybody else does to the greater good of the community. For all intents and purposes we are members of this community. So why do I always feel so unsafe in this area?

Last weekend local police expended their forces raiding three local bars and breaking up a house party on Colfax Ave. While I have no doubt that the house party was probably out of control, I am fairly certain that the patrons of the Linebacker Lounge were doing nothing out of the ordinary. If local police forces have the capability to spend a good portion of their weekend night raiding local bars where nobody is causing any problems, why do they seemingly not have the capability to increase patrols in the increasingly dangerous northeast neighborhood?

What is even more confounding to me is that the police forces no longer seem to simply be targeting Notre Dame students. I have only heard of Club Landing because of my summer listening to Tommy and the Bartender on WAOR, and was completely unaware that Inferno Bar and Grill even existed. I could understand if the local police were interested in making a quick buck by fining students that do not permanently reside here, but the fact that they are seemingly prioritizing bar raids over resident safety is utterly mind boggling to me.

Not only were three bars and a house party raided on Sunday morning, but, according to the South Bend Tribune, a 19-year-old woman was raped near Notre Dame Avenue, and a 19-year-old man was shot across town. One can only wonder if these two incidents would have occurred had local police been more concerned with patrolling troublesome areas as opposed to raiding bars that were not causing any problems. For an institution that claims their mission is to “seek and finds ways to affirmatively promote preserve and deliver a feeling of security, safety and productive quality services for all citizens in our community,” the South Bend Police are certainly failing.

What makes matters worse is that University officials seem content to let this irresponsible behavior by our local police force continue unchecked. It appears that Fr. Jenkins has repeatedly refused to use his influence with local leaders to create a safer environment. When contacted about the recent student assault, he refused to discuss it. Fr. Jenkins seems to be more concerned about his ‘Academic Forum’ than about issues relating to student safety. It is horrifying to wonder what sort of tragedy must occur for him to finally step up and take action.

Furthermore, our trustees and contributing alumni do not seem to care one bit about these issues. They will bend over backwards to put their names on buildings and ensure their football tickets are secure, but using their influence to create action where action is needed is not something that these former students are interested in.

I understand that the University as a whole does not want students to live or gather off campus, but these gatherings are unavoidable. At the very least our leadership should be working with community officials to create a sensible use of the police force and to promote a safer community as a whole. A certain level of danger will probably always be present in the Northeast Neighborhood, but it is clear to me that more could be done and more should be done.

I can only hope that this situation is addressed by University and community leaders before something dire happens. The last thing anybody wants is for the parents of a Notre Dame student to get a phone call saying that their child has been murdered. I am afraid, however, that with the blatant negligence of our local police and University leaders it is only a matter of time before this will seriously, and unfortunately, happen.

Bob Kessler is a senior majoring in political science and economics. You can contact him at rkessler@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.